A delegation of two dozen Australians head to Beijing this week in time for a four-day Australia-China film industry forum starting on December 8.

The majority of the group are producers interested in working with China on co-productions. Among the most experienced are Robyn Kershaw (Bran Nue Dae), David Parker (Matching Jack), Trish Lake (Gettin’ Square) and Sue Milliken (Paradise Road).

Screen Producers Association of Australia (SPAA) chief executive Geoff Brown and Mario Andreacchio, chair of the newly formed SPAA Australia-China Screen Alliance, are also attending. The Alliance aims to provide introductions and advice for Australian producers wanting to do business with China.

Andreacchio co-wrote and directed The Dragon Pearl (formerly The Last Dragon), due for release in 2011 and the most recent co-production between Australia and China.

Pauline Chan and Ron Saunders, producers who worked with Andreacchio on the family adventure, will also leave for China this week. Chan is in post-production on Mei Mei, a film that she directed about a Chinese orphan who travels to Australia with the intention of meeting her Australian sponsor.

An official co-production treaty between Australia and China came into force in late 2008. Films made under this treaty are treated as domestic in both Australia and China, are likely to be more noticed in other markets and, from Australia’s point of view, avoid the distribution constraints applied in China to foreign films.

Brown said that the Chinese appetite for international co-production is growing rapidly along with the economy.

“The box office for this year has increased 61% and there is still two months to go,” he added. “This year’s box office gross may close at US$1.6bn and is expected to get to US$4.5bn in the next five years… I believe we have about a three-year window before it becomes a massively competitive field with other countries.”

The Australian Embassy has been a driving force behind the forum. The co-host is the China Film Co-Production Corporation (CFCC) and Screen Australia and the China Film Bureau are the official government partners.

Presentations will be delivered by CFCC president Zhang Xun, vice-managing director of the China Film Producers’ Association, Han Sanping, general manager of the Tianjin Film & TV Group, Wang Dafang, and general manager of China Film Group’s Official Distribution Company, Xu Bing.

The agenda also includes case studies on recent co-productions, one-on-one meetings between producers from both countries, discussion of legal and other obstacles, and studio visits.

The forum is the culmination of several meetings between Chinese and Australian film-makers and film officials in the last 12 months. An Australian delegation attended the Shanghai International Film Festival; a film week and film forum was held at the Western China Cultural Industries Expo in Xi’an, where several Australian film-makers and the Xi’an Qujiang Film and TV Investment Group signed documents relating to specific projects; and a China-wide Australian Film Festival of 10 Australian films was held, complemented by an academic seminars programme at Beijing Film Academy.

These events have all been part of Imagine Australia, a two-year bilateral project involving Australia’s department of foreign affairs and trade, and China’s Ministry Of Culture.