News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch, Fox Film Entertainment CEO Jim Gianopulos and MPAA chairman Chris Dodd address Shanghai International Film Festival

China’s restriction on film imports and piracy was again a topic of discussion on the first day of the 14th Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF), with News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch and Fox Film Entertainment CEO Jim Gianopulos addressing the issues in their key note speeches at a SIFF forum.

Accompanying his wife Wendi Deng, who is promoting her first production Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, the Murdochs graced the SIFF red carpet at the opening ceremony. They were joined by the film’s director Wayne Wang and actors Gianna Jeon and Li Bingbing. Actors Susan Sarandon, Mischa Barton, Matt Dillon and Chinese stars were also on the red carpet. 

Murdoch was the first guest to speak at SIFF forum. After praising China’s high-speed growth and the Chinese entrepreneurial spirit, Murdoch called for free trade within the Chinese film market.

“The promise of investment is not being fully realised because of market access.” Murdoch said. “It is restricted both in the limitation on the import of foreign films and the restrictions on investment in distribution entities. This poses a significant challenge for US studios like ours.”

Murdoch then said the restrictions encouraged the country’s piracy and would eventually restrict the development of the Chinese film industry.

“As China’s theatrical infrastructure continues to grow it is critical to fill that pipeline with more local films as well as well as more foreign films. It is equally important to have strong, enforceable IP rights to protect the artists and create works.”

Jim Gianopulos, chairman and CEO of Fox Film Entertainment, gave his keynote speech at the second session of the forum and addressed the issue of piracy. “Initiatives to protect intellectual property around the world are not just a Hollywood studio problem, they’re a problem for local filmmakers,” Gianopulos said, adding later on, “Hollywood will succeed here if China succeeds.”

A Beijing-based industry player told Screendaily that the market access issue addressed in Murdoch and Gianopulos’ speeches would be responded to, but not in an immediate and open film policy.

China had promised to implement the WTO ruling to open up its market for entertainment goods by March, 2011. Nearly three months after the March 19 deadline, no major changes have taken place.

China is unlikely to implement new policies lifting the import restrictions, the industry player said. However, authorities may quietly allow a few private companies to engage in buying foreign films, even on a revenue-sharing basis, he said.  It is understood that major studios such as Huayi Brothers and Bona Film Group have been preparing to introduce foreign titles to China.

Meanwhile, on the second day of SIFF, Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) chairman and CEO senator Chris Dodd also addressed the fair trade issue. 

In a keynote speech Dodd urged China to partner with the US film industry to advance China’s position in the global film market. “The future of China’s filmmaking community relies on its adoption of fair trade practices and universal industry service standards,” he says.