The Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF) kicked off over the weekend with a star-studded opening ceremony and busy conference schedule that reflected the current buzz in mainland China’s fast-growing film market.

Stars and filmmakers representing 40 local films attended the red carpet on Saturday night (June 13), including Zhang Ziyi, Fan Bingbing, Li Bingbing and Vicky Zhao Wei.

International stars were also out in force including Clive Owen, Andie MacDowell and Halle Berry, who picked up an award for Outstanding Film Achievement at the opening ceremony. Jury president Danny Boyle and Quincy Jones, who will present a Master Class during the festival, also walked the red carpet.

At the opening ceremony, John Woo was also presented with an award, for Outstanding Contribution to Chinese Films, for his epic war drama Red Cliff which has grossed more than $87m (RMB600m) at the Chinese box office.

The ceremony was followed by the world premiere of opening film Wheat, a drama set in China’s Warring States period, which is directed by He Ping and stars Fan Bingbing.

However this year’s choice of closing film, Angels & Demons, reminded festival-goers that the party in the Chinese film industry is still very much a local affair. Although the film was cleared to screen at the festival, it’s understood that it hasn’t made it past Chinese censors and import quotas for a commercial release.

Following the high-octane opening, the festival then launched a busy schedule of seminars and around 20 film promotion events. At a seminar about China’s domestic market, speakers including Polybona president Yu Dong predicted that local box office will reach somewhere between $732m and $805m in 2009, despite the global downturn, while screen numbers will reach 4,000.

However, filmmakers such as Wang Xiaoshuai and Taiwan’s Wei Te-sheng expressed concern that arthouse or specialty films will be sidelined in the rapidly-expanding and blockbuster-driven market.

“My films don’t make as much money as Lu Chuan or Ning Hao’s movies, but I’d like to take the responsibility to make films that preserve some cultural uniqueness and dignity,” Wang said.

Lu, who recently signed with Creative Artists Agency (CAA), directed the most recent local blockbuster, City Of Life And Death, which has made more than $24.89m (RMB170m) in mainland China.