As the U.S. awaits a World Trade Organization decision in its market access case against China, Hollywood's lead lobbyist visited the Shanghai International Film Festival to ask the government, industry insiders and future consumers to help push for an opening of the country's protectionist movie market.
Dan Glickman, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, applauded the festival for bringing in a variety of films this year, including sexy and violent titles such as "The Reader" and "Disgrace," films that would normally never get past Beijing's censors.
"The festival is actually a rather open display of product," Glickman said Sunday, on his 10th trip to China in the past 28 years. "I think this is a very good sign."
Compliments aside, Glickman noted that since most of the films at the festival won't make it to China's growing number of multiplexes due to an annual cap of 20 imports per year, Hollywood appears to be at the bottom of the hill in an uphill fight.
"Sometimes the Chinese can be extremely tedious and obtuse in their trade discussions," he said, noting a personal understanding of the complexity of the one-party system that, try as it might, can't seem stem the growth of the film piracy the MPA claims costs its member studios billions each year in potential revenue.
As China's film industry expands with swelling middle class demand -- posting five straight years of roughly 25% growth at the boxoffice -- Glickman said there ought to be plenty of room for both good domestic and imported films.
"We continue to work to try to expand the attitude of those in China's government," said Glickman, who is due to lunch on Monday with Tong Gang, head of the Film Bureau at the State Administration of Radio Film and Television. "They need not be afraid of the expansion of the market to allow more foreign product in. Market access is clearly our biggest issue here in China."
Glickman noted that China usually takes between 45 and 60 days to review home videos for import, compared to the Asian average of 10 days. "This gives the pirates a window," he said.
With the rapid growth of Internet piracy in a country of 250 million Web surfers, Glickman also plans meetings with Chinese media entrepreneurs who share his concerns about piracy. "We want to help build a homegrown interest to push for change," he said.
The MPA's memorandum of understanding with the top seven Chinese online user generated content sites, such as Tudou.com and Youku.com, pushes to remove online pirated content quickly.
Gary Wang, Tudou's CEO, is judging a short films competition at the film festival this week, Glickman noted. "We're working with these sites to develop viable business models for the entertainment content that draws the audience."
Glickman also will make a plea to Internet content generators and film consumers of the future -- to 250 students of media, communications and social sciences at Fudan University.
"The challenge for China is how fast they'll move out of this top-down, central control of entertainment product," he said. "The slower they are, the more it's going to hurt them, because the country's moving in a different direction," toward what he called a movement of "grassroots, democratization of ideas."
The WTO market access ruling, expected at the end of the summer, follows an earlier ruling in a U.S. complaint against China over intellectual property rights violations. Both sides claimed victory.
"You have to fight your battles but never let that door close," Glickman said. "I wish I could see a sign that China's government was willing to look at this market access issue more flexibly than they have. I really don’t think we've had a lot of signs."