Hollywood's new top lobbyist avoided tough issues Monday in his first speech in China, one of the industry's most coveted yet most inaccessible markets, instead lauding Beijing's progress in combating piracy and launching foreign co-productions.
Former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd is visiting China for the first time since taking over in March as chief executive of the Motion Picture Association of America. However, in his first speech at the Shanghai International Film Festival, Dodd didn't mention the issues that have frustrated Hollywood studios operating in China for years: a de facto quota of 20 foreign blockbusters a year and the inability to distribute their own movies in the country.
Dodd took a diplomatic approach, heaping praise on the tremendous strides the Chinese film industry has made in domestic productions and working with foreign studios.
"In the last 10 years, we have seen growth and development that allows me to say here this morning that the Chinese film industry has fully matured. So too has the relationship between the American film industry and Chinese filmmakers, Chinese audiences and even the Chinese government," he said.
Dodd paid tribute to recent Chinese productions, naming the Jiang Wen political satire "Let the Bullets Fly," the Tsui Hark fantasy epic "Detective Dee: Mystery of the Phantom Flame" and Chinese actress-director Xu Jinglei's romantic comedy "Go Lala Go!"
"All the ingredients are there for China's film industry to become a major, major, major player on the world stage, just as China has always been a major player on the world cultural stage," he said.
The former senator also noted recent high-profile Hollywood-China co-productions like "The Forbidden Kingdom," which costarred Jackie Chan and Jet Li, "The Karate Kid" remake starring Chan and Jaden Smith, and "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor," which paired Li and Brendan Fraser.
"These are world-class pictures that appeal to Chinese audiences, American audiences and audiences all across the globe," he said.
But Dodd said he will "speak very candidly, as friends do and must," in upcoming talks with Chinese officials in Beijing.
"I will not ignore the concerns that Hollywood has raised for years," he said without identifying them, adding, "but I will not fail as well to acknowledge and indeed celebrate, if you will, the progress we have made," including Chinese efforts in recent months to curb movie piracy. Dodd later told The Associated Press in an interview "there's a lot more that needs to be done."
Dodd said that as a senator, he supported closer economic ties between the U.S. and China, noting he backed China's entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001.
The comment was ironic given that some Hollywood executives may see China as flouting WTO rules. Beijing failed to meet a March deadline to comply with a WTO ruling urging the Chinese government to let foreign studios distribute their own films in the country. The MPAA said in a statement in March that it was "disappointed" by the missed deadline, adding that it hoped the U.S. and Chinese officials can work toward compliance quickly.
Dodd's comments also contrasted to a more toughly worded speech by one of his constituents, Rupert Murdoch, at the Shanghai festival on Sunday. Murdoch, who controls Hollywood studio Fox, said limited access to the Chinese market undermines its potential and "presents significant challenges."
Fox is keen to replicate the success in China of its 3-D sci-fi release "Avatar," which brought in $204 million in the country _ a figure second only to U.S. revenues.
Dodd later told the AP that he wanted to build a long-term relationship with Beijing.
"I've been around long enough to know that ... if I'm going to have a productive conservation with you about something, I'm not going to start off by punching you in the nose," he said.
"It would be ridiculous for me to be here and not mention them (Hollywood's concerns). It would be just as ridiculous for me to get up at the Shanghai Film Festival and use it as a forum to raise my voice loudly about them," he said.
Dodd added that he was optimistic that China will increase access _ although not necessarily on Hollywood's timetable _ because providing quality entertainment helps its leaders maintain stability and doing so isn't politically risky.
"It's a way to provide something for people. Why am I going to shut down that? I may have other issues I'm going to have to be a little more conservative about, but this is one where I don't have to be," he said.