Disney top brass are revising the release strategy for an “inspirational” local language football drama following the wave of unrest across the Arab world.

Speaking on a CinemaCon panel about studio foreign and local productions Jason Reed, evp and general manager of Walt Disney Studios International Production, said the $1m project had been put on the backburner while executives assessed the region. The film shot last summer and centres on a pan-Arabic team of child football players.

In broader observations Reed said his division was focusing on China – of particular strategic importance to The Walt Disney Company as it developed a Shanghai theme park as a mechanism to export the Disney brand – as well as India, Russia, Germany and Spain. He revealed that the studio’s efforts in Spain were part of a nascent push into Spanish-language territories that would include Mexico and Argentina.

Every panellist agreed that penetrating China was a goal. “It’s good that we are all in China because the Chinese authorities can see we’re serious about working with China,” Reed said. “As with Russia too [sic].”

Fox International Productions president Sanford Panitch noted that the studios were used to being “the big dog” in the film industry and would have to expect strong competition from local titans like CJ Entertainment in South Korea and Toho in Japan.

He added that while global distribution pipelines brought advantages to his business, they also presented challenges when there was a need to be nimble on low-budget projects.

Warner Bros evp of international Richard Fox said that while there had initially been concern overseas about cultural imperialism when the studio got involved in local language films 12 years ago, these fears had dissipated.

Universal Pictures International’s president of international production and acquisitions Christian Grass added: “This isn’t about Hollywood taking over; it’s about us partnering with local companies, which will impact on the decisions on how to do that film.”

Matt Brodlie, svp of Paramount Worldwide, said that like Universal his studio was fostering partnerships in those territories where the studio had direct distribution capabilities. He said Paramount Worldwide was involved in a 3D production in Australia and was looking at a similar venture in France. Reed said Disney was doing a 3D film in Russia.

The panel mentioned several studio productions that had enjoyed success overseas, including Heartbreaker in France for Universal (Working Title is preparing an English language remake) and Hot Summer Days in China for Fox.

At a panel later in the afternoon on the booming BRIC markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China, Artisan Getaway president Rance Pow estimated there to be a 90% piracy rate in China. “The greatest obstacle to growth is probably piracy,” Pow said.

The opening day ended with three hours of preview footage from Paramount, DreamWorks Animation and Marvel Studios. Attendees watched lengthy sequences from Super 8, Captain America: The First Avenger, Kung Fu Panda 2, Thor and Puss In Boots.