The Chinese government is increasing its level of cultural exchanges with South Africa and Australia with a view to the development of potential co-productions.

A delegation of Chinese government officials and film industry players is currently visiting South Africa to coincide with the country's first Chinese film week.

Hosted by the Department of Arts and Culture and the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), the delegation will meet with key players in the South African film industry and in particular the burgeoning South African animation sector with its world-class technological resources.

Eddie Mbalo, CEO: NFVF said: "It is through sharing experiences with countries with similar economic and development profiles such as ours, that strategic alliances for the benefit of the industry practitioners can be developed. This visit will provide opportunity for the Chinese to gain insight into the merits and growth areas in the South African film industry and vice-versa."

Meanwhile, the China Film Group has invited Australia to submit a number of films for consideration for theatrical release, raising hopes that at least one Australian film will have a commercial season in China in the current financial year.

The invitation came after meetings earlier this month between executives of the New South Wales Film and Television Office (FTO) and the China Film Group. These coincided with a screening of Dirty Deeds, one of the centrepieces of the "Australia Week" celebrations held as part of the 4th Shanghai Arts Festival.

Dirty Deeds' David Caesar won best director for his earlier film, Mullet, at the Shanghai Film Festival in June. Mullet and the other four films shown in Shanghai - The Bank, Beneath Clouds, Lantana and The Man Who Sued God - will be among the 10 - 12 features to be put forward. Having Australian films selected for Shanghai for the first time was seen as a breakthrough.

"While the China Film Group is a government agency it is also under obligation to maximise revenues so we are looking for films that are commercial," says Laurie Patton, deputy chair of the board of the FTO, which has organised several delegations to China in the past two years.

"China is currently restructuring its cinema industry and there are a lot of cinemas clamouring for films. There will also be a flow-through effect to programming on television."

While Patton and FTO chief executive Jane Smith are trying to create a channel for distributors of Australia films - Chinese films screen in Australia commercially, in festivals, and on television - they are as interested in cultural exchange, including the development of co-productions.

The China Film Group, the only body able to officially release foreign films, is about to double its annual release schedule to 20. Within five years that number is to grow to 50 films. This softening of restrictions coincides with China's inclusion in the World Trade Organisation.