Film fest brings New Zealand to Chinese cities

Updated: 2014-04-24 07:21

By Tracie Barrett (China Daily USA)

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Organizers and participants in the 2014 New Zealand Film Festival in China, the 7th such, see the event not only as a way to strengthen trade ties and facilitate co-productions between the countries, but also as an important cultural interchange.

The festival, which opened with a reception and premiere in Beijing on April 22, will visit Shanghai and Guilin before ending on May 2. It will bring six feature films and six short films to Chinese audiences.

The program is being hosted by the film bureau of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television and the New Zealand Film Commission, and is coordinated by the Pacific Culture and Arts Exchange Center (NZ).

Jim He, chairman of the center, is a Beijing native who moved to New Zealand in 1989 and has facilitated cultural exchanges between the two countries for almost that long.

He says the film festival gives Chinese people a window to understand and appreciate not only excellent New Zealand films, but also the country's lifestyle and culture.

"It is a communication channel between filmmakers of the two countries and a pathway for film co-productions between China and New Zealand."

Audience numbers for last year's festival in China reached 20,000 and He is also excited that two New Zealand films, Weight of Elephants and Shopping, were selected for the "panorama session" of the ongoing Beijing International Festival. Weight of Elephants is also part of the NZFF lineup.

The film chosen to open the festival and appear at each premiere is the sci-fi mystery Eternity, the second feature film from writer, director and producer Alex Galvin.

Speaking from New Zealand, Galvin says he has been eager to return to China since his first visit last year, when Eternity was selected for the Shanghai International Film Festival.

The movie was conceived as a New Zealand/Asia co-production, he says, with filming taking place in Hong Kong - representing a city of the future - and New Zealand - the "clean, green" backdrop of the film's virtual world.

There were obvious differences between filming in New Zealand and in China, Galvin says, "but there's a real energy and vitality (in China), which I really liked".

He says there were also many similarities between the work ethic in the two areas, comparing the "get out there and do it" approach in Asia to what is called "the No 8 fencing wire mentality" of New Zealand - a belief that anything can be fixed by using what's available and ingenuity.

Galvin believes the filming in his homeland of such Hollywood blockbusters as The Hobbit and Avatar "brought a great skill set to New Zealand and also up-skilled a lot of New Zealanders".

"I think the good thing in New Zealand is we are able to get absolutely top-quality crew who have experience on very big budget films."

He sees himself as taking his own skills, honed in such company, offshore in the future and sees China as a promising possible location.

"I think I will at some point base myself overseas. I'll still film in New Zealand," he says, but adds that he's fascinated by the possibilities of co-productions in the future.

Galvin credits the New Zealand co-producer of Eternity, Michael Stephens, with using connections he has built with Asia over the past 20 years to smooth the process of filming in Hong Kong.

Stephens, speaking at the March announcement of the festival, also expresses his belief in future movie partnerships.

"China is now New Zealand's largest trading partner and is potentially one of the largest international markets for this country's film and digital entertainment sector," he says.

"The opportunity for the New Zealand film industry if it can collaborate with China is truly colossal."

The 2014 New Zealand Film Festival in China will screen in Beijing through April 27, Shanghai April 24-29 and Guilin, capital of the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, April 26-May 2.

 Film fest brings New Zealand to Chinese cities

Director and producer Alex Galvin works on the set of Eternity in Hong Kong. Provided to China Daily

(China Daily USA 04/24/2014 page10)