James Cameron and Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman Jim Gianopulos were among the heavyweights who spoke at the Beijing International Film Festival (BIFF) today about co-production and China’s growing role in the international film business.

Both men are in a position to feel positive about China’s booming film market – Fox’s Titanic 3D, directed by Cameron, has grossed more than $100m in China, more than all the other international territories combined.

Gianopulos praised the rapid growth of the Chinese film industry and its local cinema market, which Fox has been directly involved in, partnering with Huayi Brothers on Chinese-language features Hot Summer Days and Love In Space.

“We’ve made two films with Huayi and we’re expanding our relationships with other Chinese production companies,” Gianopulos said. He also spoke of the need to fight piracy and develop ancillary revenue streams to lesson the market’s dependence on theatrical release. 

Cameron, who has been busy meeting Chinese film directors including Zhang Yimou, said that China is “only getting started” and with little existing cinema infrastructure to worry about, is ideally positioned to embrace digital technology and 3D.

“It’s poised to become the second most prominent film market, so the world will be looking to do more participation with China,” Cameron said. “What I’m interested in here personally are two different roles both as a filmmaker and as a technical provider for 3D.”

Cameron also said he is exploring co-productions and shooting part of the Avatar films in China but was still on a fact-finding mission regarding economics and infrastructure: “We haven’t made a decision in that area yet and want to continue to learn more but all the indicators are very positive.”

Titanic and Avatar producer Jon Landau was slightly less enthusiastic, observing that it was the tax credit and not locations that drew Avatar to New Zealand: “Infrastructure here is building up but we need a financial reason to come. We don’t need to film pandas or the Great Wall, we need incentives or another reason.”

More than one speaker touched on the delicate issue of China’s censorship and quota system with Cameron the most eloquent in arguing against restrictions on filmmakers: “I would think that a better way to protect Chinese internal cinema is to relax some of restrictions on subject matter so filmmakers can compete with the films that come in by subject.”

Also speaking on the panel, organised by China Film Co-production Corp (CFCC), were Fox International Productions president Sanford Panitch, MPA Asia Pacific chief Michael Ellis and leading Chinese film officials Tong Gang and Han Sanping.

Film Finances co-president Steve Ransohoff talked about how completion bonds help Western producers raise finance and Polish filmmaker Jerzy Skolimoski explained how co-productions are put together in Europe, using the example of his Venice winner Essential Killing.

Around 260 films from 54 countries are screening at the fest, which kicked off on April 23 with a lavish opening ceremony at the National Convention Centre, but like the inaugural BIFF in 2011, no opening film. Cameron, Jeremy Renner, Zhang Ziyi and Wang Lee-hom were among the big names on the red carpet.

The festival runs until April 28 with the Beijing Film Market taking place from April 24-26.