World Film Industry

Not all the moviemaking action takes place in Hollywood. Correspondents in six of the major movie-producing nations report on those countries' artistic contributions.


Australia's small, government-subsidized film industry consistently produces quirky gems that appeal to audiences beyond its borders.

The hit of this season could be Chris Noonan's "Babe," which has attracted a following in the United States but has yet to be released in Australia. The animatronics feature was financed by Hollywood's Universal Studios but was shot in Australia. Other recent films popular overseas include "Muriel's Wedding," "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," and "Strictly Ballroom."

Feature-film production dropped to A$113 million ($83.8 million) for 20 films in 1994-5, from A$210 million for 31 titles in 1993-4, according to the Australian Film Commission. Because of reductions in government subsidies since the 1980s, private investment money for film is harder to come by. But since July, some 17 feature films valued at A$68 million were launched.

One new trend is a sharp increase in foreign production shot in Australia, where production costs can be 30 percent lower than in the US. This year, nine foreign films valued at $96.5 million were shot here, including New Line's "The Island of Dr. Moreau" and Paramount's "The Phantom."

- Gail Russell Chaddock


After years in the doldrums, Britain's filmmakers are getting a boost from the National Lottery. An earmarked 84 million ($129.5 million) is intended to give the British industry a capital base from which to relaunch itself. The money will improve the situation, but taxes on foreign productions remain a problem.

British filmmakers look with envy at the Irish Republic, where generous tax incentives attract American producers.

Films such as "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "The Madness of King George" are proof that Britain can produce box-office successes. But the first was funded by a Netherlands-based company, and the second by the Samuel Goldwyn Company in Los Angeles.

Third Millennium Studios, a Malaysian-based company, has announced plans to develop a huge filming complex at a disused airfield near London at a cost of 200 million. The Leavesden site is where the new James Bond movie "Goldeneye" was shot. The project calls for a family entertainment park and a studio tour patterned on Hollywood's Universal Studios.

- Alexander MacLeod


Canada's film industry is a rags and riches story - rags for the feature-film side - and riches for its growing animation and made-for-TV film businesses.

The Canadian industry recorded strong gains in 1993-1994, generating $535 million overall. Exports of Canadian films and videos have soared 85 percent since 1990.

That growth was highlighted last week as Walt Disney Company announced plans to build two animation studios next month, one each in Toronto and Vancouver. Toronto is North America's third-largest film-production center after Los Angeles and New York. The relatively low-valued Canadian dollar makes Canada a more attractive spot to film than the actual locations.

Canada's homegrown "theatrical" film industry, however, is still struggling. Only about 17 to 18 feature films are produced here annually. Revenue from theatrical releases is about $3 million, or one percent of the industry.

The number of recent Canadian feature films in broad release can be counted on one hand: "Jesus of Montreal," "Black Robe," and "Exotica."

But "Johnny Mnemonic," a big-budget film about a futuristic data-courier, played by Keanu Reeves, was one recent Canadian-made film that broke the mold and was released across North America.

"The US has done such an incredible job marketing that all the two big chains up here want is American-made movies," says Andre Bennett, an independent producer and distributor.

- Mark Clayton


Chen Kaige, Zhang Yimou, and other Chinese film directors have won acclaim abroad. But their rise in stature has been greeted with tighter censorship and government restrictions on using foreign funds to make Chinese films.

Market-style reforms, launched more than 15 years ago, have delivered a flood of new overseas financing to China's struggling film studios. Every year, they produce about 150 films, at least 10 of which must laud socialism.

The new economic freedoms also loosened the censor's ideological grip and fostered a new cinematic liveliness. Unnerved by the gutsiness of China's new breed of directors, the government cracked down a year ago, imposing closer scrutiny on scripts.

Beijing's Communist masters are keen to export China's film excellence abroad - but only with their approval. Censors were irritated when Zhang Yimou's "To Live" was screened at last year's Cannes festival without permission from the Ministry of Radio, Film and Television. Tighter rules followed.

But international praise, in other instances, can loosen censorship. Zhang's widely celebrated "Ju Dou" and "Raise the Red Lantern" were banned at first, then later screened in China after garnering cinema prizes around the world.

Censorship isn't the only threat to the creativity of China's directors. Along with foreign funding have come film imports from Taiwan and Hong Kong. This invasion, coupled with film piracy and poor quality and erratic distribution of government-approved films, is hurting business. Hollywood is also making inroads after China and the US reached an agreement on copyright protection earlier this year.

"The danger is that, because the film industry on the mainland is not strong, if it develops like Hong Kong and Taiwan, it might be undermined by commercialization," says Ni Zhen, a film critic and screenwriter who teaches at the Beijing Film Academy.

- Sheila Tefft


In France, the fight against Hollywood is a matter of national security.

French taxpayers support their national film industry to the tune of some $420 million a year, and French officials have argued for protection for national film industries in world-trade talks and in the European Union. They are beginning to make gains at home. In 1994, American films claimed 60 percent of the French film market. This year to date, it is down to 54 percent.

Jean-Paul Rappeneau's big-budget "Le Hussard sur le Toit (The Soldier on the Roof)" was given the fanfare of a national champion heading out to do battle with the Americans. But the film failed to draw the young French viewers now essential to box-office success, and has not yet found an audience abroad.

"What young people are looking for today is a rapid succession of action sequences, such as they see in music videos," says Patrick Ciercoles, a spokesman for France's National Center of Cinematography.

- Gail Russell Chaddock


Just as it seemed that India's Bombay-dominated film industry was being undermined by India's cable and satellite TV revolution, moviemakers are enjoying a revival. Although rising production costs and video piracy have eaten into the industry's profits, the plethora of local stations has created an unprecedented demand for film.

Overall the number of movies being made in India today has fallen to about 800 from a peak of about 948 films in 1990. That still makes India the most prolific film producer in the world. Indians see films at four times the rate of their counterparts in the US.

Once dominated by films reworking well-proven themes such as romance, religion, and crime, India's 82-year-old movie industry has matured. One of the most successful and controversial films of 1995 was "Bombay," which dealt with sensitive Hindu-Muslim relations.

Another trend has been the growing strength of regional film industries, particularly in states such as Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, where celluloid culture even extends to the top of the political establishment. Both states have voted in film stars as chief ministers.

- John Zubrzycki


The "art film" directors - Akira Kurosawa, Kon Ichikawa, even the younger Juzo Itami - create respectable works that add to Japanese prestige overseas. But Japanese themselves often prefer Godzilla movies, and the final sequel, "Godzilla vs. Destroyer," opened Saturday to huge crowds in 200 theaters.

As in America, people go to the movies on weekend nights. What are they watching? No. 1: Cartoons. No. 2: Sly and Arnold. The top-grossing movie in Japan last year was "Cliffhanger" with Sylvester Stallone, which earned 4 billion yen ($40 million). No. 2 was "True Lies" with Arnold Schwarzenegger (3.5 billion yen). No. 3 was a Japanese-made animated feature called "Heisen Tanuki Gassen Pompoko" (2.6 billion yen). Of the top 10 Japanese-made films last year, at least half were animated.

The leading Japanese-made "real" movie was a recent installment in the series of "Tora-san" movies directed by Yoji Yamada. These films follow the adventures of a warm-hearted character who pops up around the country to save people from trouble. Tora-san represents what many Japanese wish they could be: free of shame, direct, and unselfconsciously benevolent.

- Miharu Hasegawa

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