TIFF turns focus eastward for Asian Film Summit

TIFF's inaugural Asian Film Summit intends to build bridges between filmmakers, distributors, exhibiters and financiers in the West and their peers in countries like China and India.

China's cinematic rise

The National

9 years ago
While box office numbers are slipping in North America, in China, business is booming. The western film industry is looking to the east, and so is TIFF. At the festival's inaugural Asian Film Summit, Hollywood moguls like Harvey Weinstein are rubbing shoulders with Asian heavyweights like Jackie Chan. Eli Glasner examine what China's rise means to the movie biz. 2:50

As with other sectors, the North American film industry is increasingly turning its eye eastward in hopes of tapping into Asian markets and the area's large, movie-loving audiences.

Filmmaking has gone global, with an increasing number of co-productions that unite partners across borders. China, for instance, has been specifically courted by those in the West who are eager to work with local firms, access the country's exploding cinema market and feed Chinese audiences hungry to see more.

After noticing a shift in the way movies are being put together, TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey realized that the festival could serve as a bridge for the industry.

Writer-director Rian Johnson, left, and actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt are seen filming on Shanghai's famed waterfront for the U.S.-China co-production Looper, which opened TIFF 2012. (Sony Pictures)

"I saw the radical changes that are happening in the global film industry, in the sense that it is becoming more truly international," he told CBC News, pointing out that the festival's opener Looper — while appearing as a regular Hollywood title — is actually a U.S.-Chinese co-production.

"Toronto is uniquely placed to be a part of the conversation about that change because of our population, our audience here and how outward-looking we are. Being a city of immigrants, being a festival that shows films from so many different countries each year, [attracting] audiences that are familiar with movies from the West and the East, I thought this was the perfect place to do it."

What has emerged is TIFF's first-ever Asian Film Summit, an event designed for filmmakers, distributors, exhibitors, financiers and policy-makers.

Running all day on Monday at the newly opened Shangri-La Hotel Toronto (the latest outpost of the Asian luxury hotel chain), the conference encompasses industry sessions and panels matching movie experts from the East and the West. The event aims to facilitate the sharing ideas and concerns, to spark new working relationships and to determine solutions to common problems.

For an internationally made film to screen in the rapidly increasing number of China's cinemas, there are a host of regulations to which filmmakers must comply, according to Chinese actor-turned-director Stephen Fung, a participant in the summit and whose film Tai Chi 0 is playing at TIFF.

"For example, at least a portion of the movie has to be shot inside China. Also, of course, you have to comply [with] a certain type of material that you can talk about ... There's a certain amount of Chinese actors or actresses you have to use. These are just some of the rules and it's always changing, so you really have to know someone before you have a co-venture," he acknowledged.

"It doesn't mean you can't be creative. It's just that there are certain aspects you have to be aware of," added the Hong Kong-born Fung, who studied and worked as a graphic designer in the U.S. before returning to China.

"It's not something that's always written in black and white. But that's why you need someone in China to help you." 

Monday's film summit is slated to conclude with a banquet hosted by Hollywood power producer Harvey Weinstein.

The day's goal "is to provide a platform for people to talk about how to navigate [these new] changes, how to do business and find opportunities around the world," Bailey said.

Zhang Ziyi and Jackie Chan, seen in Beijing in 2011, are among the Chinese stars attending TIFF 2012. (Feng Li/Getty Images)

"We have to learn how to speak each other's languages, if not literally, then at least culturally. And I think that's something this summit will help do."

Participants for the inaugural edition run the gamut, from action star Jackie Chan and filmmakers Fung, Mira Nair and Eli Roth to representatives from cinema-associated firms like Imax and Cineplex, as well as talent agents and industry leaders such as Chris Dodd, former U.S. senator and current CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America.

"There's an opportunity to really bring together people from all different parts of the world during the festival — who are already here doing business and showing their films and having premieres — to talk about … what are the next steps for all of us, so that we can understand how we need to grow," Bailey said.

"The film industry, like every other business, never stands still."

The Toronto International Film Festival continues through Sept. 16.