Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Model to Emulate for Regional Film Markets

When I first read of TIFFCON's (Tokyo International Film Festival) efforts to increase international sales and coproductions (Sales and co-production under the spotlight at TIFFCON News Screen), what caught my attention first was reading, "Taiwan, which was colonised by Japan for 50 years until the 1940s" and I thought, How about a film about that little known fact for the rest of us...including -- was it called, Chang Kai Chek's "liberation"?

On thinking further of how much well-thought-out care was taken to address the issue of our international film crisis from the Japanese point of view, I realized that TIFFCON was presenting a model to emulate for regional film markets and that this applied particularly to the new upcoming Ventana Sur, hosted by the Argentina Government organization INCAA and Jerome Paillard of the Cannes Market. Might the Tokyo International Film Festival with its intense focus on the Japanese film industry investigating ways to sell films internationally and to coproduce with Asian neighbors be emulated by Ventana Sur in its second edition? This edition is strictly sales oriented film screenings, but beyond traditional sales, a united effort to create a larger cooperative sales, distribution and coproduction entity would create an environment more conducive to a steady flow of product of a certain commercial level of product that buyers could rely on. I will be in Buenos Aires blogging on this issue and other newsworthy issues November 26 – 30.

The panel at LALIFF (Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival) with Jim McNamara of CineLatino and Panamax, Ignacio Darnaude, EVP International Creative Advertising of Sony Pictures Releasing International and Santiago Pozo, founder and CEO of Arenas, US’s premiere Latino film marketing and sometime distribution company concluded that the product flow of Latino films -- whether in English or Spanish -- needs to be stepped up to a constant flow in order to cultivate a stateside audience, and relying on the already established studios and independent sales agents and distributors will not suffice. It will only be accomplished with the backing of a pan Latin American independent production/ distribution company made of cooperating Latin American and US based Latino entities.

TIFFCON had 209 exhibitors from 14 countries and was attended by buyers from Japan, Korea, China and Singapore. Here are events set up for its constituency, events designed to address the issues of pan Asian collaboration.

Japan has historically represented 10% of the market making it the second largest world market after US and was able to be more or less self sufficient. But with its declining DVD market and its own economic downturn it needs to increase exports and co-productions. Still and all, its own box office is booming.

UniJapan and J-Pitch organized a panel of five leading international sales agents to advise local producers on how to expand the market for their films.

  • Gabor Greiner, acquisitions executive for Germany’s The Match Factory, explained how tough the international market has become for foreign-language product, despite the fact that Japanese films such as Departures and Tokyo Sonata have been winning accolades and distribution overseas. “Distributors these days are taking less and less risks and it is easier to pick up films than it is to sell them,” Greiner said. “In the coming year we will be looking for films that are a bit more commercial or not so local.” However he said he was in Tokyo specifically to look for Japanese films: “We are looking for novelty, freshness, new ways of filmmaking and storytelling and other points of international appeal.”

  • Youngjoo Suh of Korean sales agent Fine Cut , which is handling Kanik├┤sen from Japan’s Sabu, outlined the strengths and weaknesses of Japanese cinema that she considers when deciding whether to pick up a project or invest. “The strength of the Japanese industry is that it has so many original contents, like manga and novels. But the arthouse films tend to be a little bit repetitive. Of course it’s nice to have a message, but I like films to have a bit of an edge."

Panels about collaboration between Japan and three Chinese-speaking territories who are all interested in working with Japan.

  • China, soon to become the box office giant still has unresolved tensions with Japan dating back to WWII, though filmmakers are attempting to bridge the political gap.

  • Hong Kong’s Trade Development Council (TDC) hosted coproduction partners stepping up to collaboration with Japan.
    § Irresistible Films’ Lorna Tee discussed its cooperation between Japan’s Avex Inc. Entertainment and Hong Kong’s Bill Kong and Hugh Simon which aims to support new talent and is currently on its sixth production, an untitled project co-directed by Derek Tsang and Jimmy Wan.
    § Hong Kong-based Salon Films and Japan’s Casio Entertainment talked about their co-production, Fly Baby Fly, an animated multi-platform project set for release in 2011. Japan’s Yoshimoto Kogyo is also co-producing the film, a fantasy about the annual migration of butterflies from Taiwan to Japan, which has an environmental message for kids.

  • Taiwan, a colony of Japan for 50 years until the 1940s still has strong cultural links to the country, especially in the areas of youth and pop culture. One panel explored how this was exploited by the producers of Taiwanese mega-hit Cape No. 7 which featured Japanese actors and music from J-pop star Kousuke Atari. My question: Why not make a film about the colonization, a little known part of history in the west.

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