The Berlin Film Festival, which gets underway next week, is bracing itself for disruption to its 2020 edition as more than 50 Chinese delegates and a handful of international executives have cancelled attendance due to the deadly coronavirus.
Matthijs Wouter Knol, who heads up the festival’s industry wing the European Film Market (EFM), confirmed to us that a delegation of representatives from major Chinese companies have been unable to obtain the necessary travel visas due to the outbreak. To date, 59 related cancellations have come from China, as well as a further five from unspecified international territories. The event explained that it was expecting more, but insisted that numbers so far do not indicate a significant drop.
This week, we have also heard that one European journalist has cancelled their attendance and is planning to cover the fest remotely, while the head of one Asian festival has also told us they will most likely be unable to travel.
A Berlin rep also added that it was anticipating cancelations from China for the main festival, though did not specify names. There are a total of three features and one short film from China in the festival program this year, and Chinese director Jia Zhangke is due in town to host a talk with compatriot Huo Meng.
As we reported last week in our interview with new Berlin directors Carlo Chatrian and Mariette Rissenbeek, the fest is expecting Jia Zhangke to attend, though there were concerns over potential disruption to the post-production of his film, the documentary Swimming Out Till The Sea Turns Blue ,which is set to play as a special screening.
The Chinese EFM delegation would have included execs from Wanda Media, Alibaba Pictures Group, Shinework Pictures, UNI Pictures, Beijing Silk Road World Culture & Communication, Youku, Taikong Works, Times Vision, New Classics Media, Beijing Enlight Pictures, Beijing Jingxi, Chinese Oversea and Beijing Novo United Films. As a result of the cancellations, the planned Chinese umbrella stand in the event’s main hub, the Martin-Gropius-Ba, will no longer take place.
Global authorities are scrambling to contain the fast-spreading coronavirus, which has killed more than 1,100 people to date. The vast majority of infections have been recorded in China, though the virus has also spread to the UK, France and Canada.
Last year, the EFM welcomed around 10,000 total participants, so the cancellations shouldn’t be overly disruptive. However, the lack of delegates from China will be felt. The country has a booming cinema market with maturing tastes, and while it has often been a challenging place for western companies to do business, it remains full of potential. Last year’s remarkable success story that was Capernaum – the arthouse Lebanese drama that was sold into China by French company Wild Bunch and grossed more than $50m via local releaser Road Pictures – will have whetted the appetites of international sellers looking for a repeat.
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