Exciting times in the Asia-Pacific region

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When delegates met a year ago in Hong Kong at CineAsia, they were getting ready to witness the release of the most anticipated film of 2009, Avatar. And it did not disappoint. James Cameron’s film soared to US$2.8 billion in worldwide box office and truly changed how moviegoers view 3D. Avatar became the highest-grossing motion picture of all time and set new standards for how future stereoscopic films would be judged. And devoted fans could not be happier with the recent announcement that James Cameron will be making Avatar 2 & 3 for Fox.

2010 has been an extraordinary year, with box office tracking ahead of 2009—a record year—and probably the greatest transition the industry has ever witnessed. The key component of this success has been the great receptiveness of the public to state-of-the-art digital and 3D projection. The studios have begun to capitalize on this advanced technology with the sheer volume of films entering the marketplace.

In December 2009, there were about 8,500 digital screens internationally, and of that total only 5,200 were equipped with 3D systems. Today that number has jumped to 10,700 3D screens out of 14,500 digital screens. The numbers are impressive. Remarkably, 38% of international 3D screens are in the Asia-Pacific region. To keep up with the number of 3D films going into the pipeline, it is vital that the number of 3D-ready screens keep growing to accommodate multiple 3D demands.

As delegates get ready to gather in Hong Kong for the 16th edition of CineAsia, we have seen tremendous growth in the Asia-Pacific market, which continues to play a significant role in the global box office. The Chinese market continues to grow and box office is up 23% from last year, with gross revenues of $1.1 billion in the first nine months of 2010.

China is not the only country reaping the benefits of a strong box office. The region’s two biggest markets, Japan and Korea, have both seen terrific gains. Japan has crossed $2 billion in box-office grosses within the first nine months of 2010, an 11% jump from 2009. Korea was ahead 18% for the same period with box office of $750 million.

Attendees at CineAsia as well as other major conventions for the motion picture industry are driven by the opportunity to see new feature films, to experience new technologies and, most importantly, to network and learn from one another. Because of this phenomenon, the management of CineAsia has specifically set aside time for leaders in exhibition to communicate ideas about what’s happening in the marketplace. In Hong Kong, the CineAsia Summit summons theatrical exhibition executives from at least 15 countries to ponder issues from windows and piracy to digital, 3D and where the industry will be in the next five to ten years.

One of the more articulate and innovative executives in Japanese exhibition is Naoshi Yoda, the managing director of T-Joy Cinemas. Yoda-san is a risk-taker, but prudent in advancing the motion picture experience in Japan. He firmly believes that “by pursuing business within the framework of countries, [people are] restricting themselves” and argues that “it is necessary to exceed the boundaries that these restrictions allow.” Within his home market, where the population is aging and the number of children is falling rapidly, he is directing a course to pursue business opportunities outside his borders.

The T-Joy Co-Marketing Strategy is one which focuses on development in Asia. The concept is to open a market where production companies and distribution companies can provide stable distribution and enable a steady stream of high-quality content to flow across international boundaries. T-Joy has also implemented a content-exchange project with CJ Entertainment in Korea. We applaud the efforts of Yoda-san and his vision of helping to raise the level of the Asia film industry.

The persistence of film piracy or film theft is a major problem in Asia, as it is in all parts of the world. Specifically in Asia, the battle falls to Michael Ellis, who heads up the Asia-Pacific Region for the Motion Picture Association. For the past decade, Ellis and the MPA had been focusing primarily on anti-piracy enforcement tactics. Now the focus has shifted and seeks out proactive and collaborative approaches to address key challenges that threaten the otherwise vast potential of the region’s vibrant markets. Working closely with local cinema operators has been one of the major steps in this new strategy and has helped wipe out camcording as a source of piracy in Hong Kong and Malaysia.

This edition of Film Journal International covers CineAsia, the Asia-Pacific region, and lots more we hope you will find of great interest. Enjoy it.

U.S. Welcomes Chinese Films
Ethnic programming in the United States got another boost recently with the announcement that China Lion Film Distribution signed an exclusive partnership with AMC Entertainment that will see mainstream Chinese movies released in the U.S. and select Canadian provinces.

China Lion is a joint venture between China-based Jiang Yanming and New Zealand-based Incubate, owned by Milt Barlow. For the past two years, Incubate has distributed Chinese movies in Australia and New Zealand for EVENT Cinemas. EVENT has screened more than 30 Chinese films at its multiplexes and “Cinema Asia” is now a regular part of their programming.

The new deal will see China Lion supply up to 15 films per year to AMC in the U.S., Toronto and Ottawa. In most cases, the films will release day-and-date with China. The exclusive deal with AMC kicked off in late October with the release of the Chinese megahit, Aftershock. The film has grossed US$100 million in China, making it the biggest local film in Chinese box-office history.

AMC played the film on 23 screens in key markets with a large Chinese demographic, namely New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, Houston, Boston, Seattle, Toronto and Ottawa. We wish the circuit great success with this bold new initiative.