China-Canada event creates opportunities for filmmakers 

Whistler Film Festival hosts the first China Canada Gateway for Film Script Competition

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Sitting down to breakfast on the third day of the Whistler Film Festival will be three happy groups of Canadian filmmakers and the Chinese producers who hope to turn their celluloid dreams into reality.

But before they share coffees and croissants at their first business meetings, the Canadians will have battled it out in a major pitch session on day two of the festival, Thursday, Nov. 29.

There will be many film industry conversations and deals coming out of the festival, but some of the most exciting prospects will stem from the China Canada Gateway for Film Script Competition.

Thirteen Canadian finalists out of 110 applicants will pitch their ideas to representatives from production companies Wuxi Studios, Beijing Hairun Pictures and Galloping Horse, which will choose the stories and filmmakers they want to work with.

Jane Milner, the managing director of the WFF, said the pitch day will be the culmination of three years' work and is a first for Canadian film. "It has been my life for three years," Milner says. "The fact that we got 110 applicants just blew my socks off."

More than three teams could be chosen, depending how successful the Canadian filmmakers are with their pitches. "I'm hoping for a minimum of nine movies in total, three a year," Milner says. "There's no guarantee, obviously, but the Chinese also work fairly quickly, so if they also like a story they will work and work and try and get it out in between 12 and 18 months."

The Memorandum Of Understanding signed by Telefilm Canada and the China Film Group allows for the competition to run until 2014. Milner says the WFF has created a first for Canadian film with this opportunity, and has succeeded thanks to former WFF board member Harry Sutherland, who has longstanding business ties in China.

"The entire world is trying to figure out how to do business with China... and there are very few shortcuts. You have to spend time, understand the culture, you have to understand their decision-making process and build relationships," Milner says. "Over time we were looking for a proposition that was beneficial for Canadian filmmakers and Chinese filmmakers, more than 'let's get together, have a glass of wine, and maybe there's a deal there.' We noticed, having viewed numerous Chinese films that, first of all, they're ambitious in terms of wanting to recapture some of their own domestic box office, but they have lost to big foreign films that they have let into their country."

It turns out that Canada is a good fit. "They were interested in how to tell stories, because that is what film is all about. How to tell stories that would capture that box office back, but also if they really get good at it they will capture some international markets themselves," says Milner. "In Canada we're really good at telling stories. We hit way above our weight in terms of scriptwriting, about 30 per cent of writers in Hollywood are Canadian. Clearly, China is not interested in us because we have a huge market. They're interested in us because we have unique talents, unique experience, and a very mature talent pool in terms of storytelling and filmmaking."

There will be 13 pitches over the course of a full day and it's open to the public. Tickets cost $100 and the event runs from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The winners will be decided over the course of the same day by Wuxi Studios, Beijing Hairun Pictures, and Galloping Horse, and will be announced at a reception at 4:30 p.m. in the grand foyer of the Whistler Conference Centre.

A 20-minute documentary is being made of the whole event by Vancouver filmmaker Monika Mitchell.

"We decided to make a documentary of the entire Chinese experience at the festival. There will be two senior members of the China Film Group coming to observe who have never been to Canada before. This is a real first for Canada so we're meeting them with a film crew and following them through their visit," Milner says.

For a list of finalists visit

Finalists for the China Canada Gateway competition

"Blush," writer Richard Bell, producer Elizabeth Yake; "Butterfly Tale," writer Heidi Foss, producer Marie-Claude Beauchamp; "Delicious," writer Jennifer Scherwin, producers Christopher Zimmer and Bill Fleming; "Disappeared," writer Pascal Boutroy, producer Deborah Carlson and Lia Jarvis; "Frank," writer Patrick Tarr, producer Nicolas D. Tabarrok; "Imposter," writer Lorenzo Orzari, producer Jean-Pierre Morin; "Pop Goes the Weasel," writer Norman Snider, producer Chris Nanos; "Rock Bottom," writers Wendy Ord and Glen Samuel, producers John Bain and Kathy Avrich-Johnson; "Space Race," writer Yung Chang, producer Bob Moore; "Red Serge Duty," writer Sandy Yates, producers Henry Damen and Ian Smith; "The Eddie Zhao Story," writer Guy Bennett, producer Raymond Massey; and "The Real Estate," writers and producers Robert Budreau and Tasso Lakas.

The unnamed wildcard takes the number up to 13 pitches.


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