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China Is A Fast-Growing Presence In The World Of Cinema


CATE BLANCHETT: And this year's Palme d'Or...

UNIDENTIFIED TRANSLATOR: Et la Palme d'Or cette annee...

BLANCHETT: ...Kore-eda Hirokazu for "Shoplifters."



That's the Cannes Film Festival, which ended last night with jury president Cate Blanchett announcing the Palme d'Or. The top prize went to a Japanese film. But another Asian country is shaking up the movie industry. China now has more cinema screens than the U.S. and is expected to overtake all of North America in box-office revenues and audience numbers by 2020. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley was at Cannes this year and says China's growing presence in the cinema world is palpable.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, speaking Chinese).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, speaking Chinese).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: China had a film in competition at Cannes this year, "Ash Is Purest White" by renowned director Jia Zhangke - a drama of love and revenge in a gritty town run by Chinese gangsters. Chinese stars strutted up the red carpet posing for photographers. But the biggest Chinese presence was on the business side of the Riviera festival. Multimillion-dollar deals are signed at the Cannes Film Market, which is attended by some 30,000 film industry representatives every year with an increasing number of Chinese movie executives among them.

ROBBIE HO: My name is Robbie, Robbie Ho. I'm from Xi'an, China. Thank you.

BEARDSLEY: Robbie Ho is a movie investor who's interested in setting up joint ventures with Western producers.

HO: Chinese now become a consumer society, so they want to be more and more entertainment program. So Chinese government encourage us to be invest in this kind of entertainment industry. So we just follow the government, what they need.

BEARDSLEY: Laurent Danielou is the head of a small independent distributor Loco Films. He's bought the rights to one of the three Chinese movies screened outside the official competition at Cannes. Danielou says, until recently, China wasn't a market he even thought about.

LAURENT DANIELOU: For us, China was a dead territory. We never sold a movie in China.

BEARDSLEY: But that's changed. While most Chinese films are unknown in the West, Danielou says some arthouse movies are gaining an audience in Europe. But the big opportunity, he says, is selling foreign films to China.

DANIELOU: For us, China now is a big market. There's a lot of Chinese company coming to Cannes to buy our French, our Russian, our American movie. So it's a very competitive territory.

BEARDSLEY: But it can be a difficult territory. China has censors, and it limits the number of foreign films that can be imported every year. Still, everybody seems to want a piece of the growing Chinese market. China is also expanding in foreign cinema markets. A Chinese company now owns AMC, America's largest theater chain.

DAN XU: (Speaking Chinese, laughing).

BEARDSLEY: Independent film producer Dan Xu, who had a film being screened at Cannes, says a whole new generation of Chinese filmmakers is beginning to make movies to appeal to international audiences. Xu believes China is on its way to becoming a major player in the global movie industry.

XU: You know, I went to a party yesterday. And in that party, at least three Western producers come to me to ask - oh, we want to have a movie in China. We want to have the co-productions. Just tell me, how should I do?

BEARDSLEY: Xu says it's a very propitious moment for Chinese cinema. Talent, technology and financing have all come together at once, she says. And that's why Chinese cinema is on the rise at Cannes and beyond.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, at the Cannes Film Festival. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.