Foreign directors track Olympic progress through film series

And other news in Greater China

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BEIJING--Five renowned directors took part in a film series organized by the Chinese government to record Beijing and its people as they prepare for the 2008 Olympic Games.

In a project called Vision Beijing, which took 600 days to complete, five-minute films were directed by Italy's Giuseppe Tornatore from Italy; Majid Majidi from Iran; Patrice Leconte from France; Daryl Goodrich from the U.K.; and Hong Kong native Andrew Lau Wai Keung, who has a large following in China thanks to hit films like Storm Riders and Infernal Affairs.

The films premiered on China Central Television’s CCTV-2 channel on Feb. 28. They will also air on local Chinese channels like Beijing TV as well as TV networks in Italy, France and Iran and on Sohu, a major Chinese web portal and a sponsor of this summer’s games. In China, the films will also run in Beijing's movie theaters, on LCD screens in the subway system, and as downloads to mobile phones.

For most of the directors, the project is their first direct exposure to mainland China. Mr. Tornatore won an Academy Award for "Nuovo Cinema Paradiso" in 1988, and Mr. Majidi was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film with "Children of Heaven" in 1998. A retired athlete, Mr. Goodrich shot the promotional film for London's successful bid for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Ford drops MindShare for CMX and local media brokerage firms
CHONGQING--Ford Motor Co. has parted ways with GroupM's MindShare division in China. Until now, the WPP Group media agency has handled media planning and buying for Ford's three passenger car models in China--the Focus, the Fiesta and the Mondeo--produced through a joint venture with Chongqing-based ChangAn Automotive Group, a state-owned firm controlled by the People's Liberation Army. Ford also produces commercial vehicles through a second joint venture with Jiangling Motors Corp.

The U.S. auto giant's media business is now split between China Media Exchange, the holding company for Publicis Groupe's three media agencies in China--Zenith, Optimedia and Starcom-- and various local media brokerages which work on a provincial basis around the country. The business is worth at least $26 million although exact billings have not been disclosed.

The account move is attributed by industry insiders to a personality clash between MindShare executives in China and leadership at ChangAn, Ford's joint-venture partner. But the decision comes at a difficult time for Ford in China. Although the Detroit-based auto company said sales in 2007 grew 25% over the previous year, the company missed its 2007 market share target in China, according to internal company documents obtained by The Detroit News.

Chanel launches global art exhibition in Hong Kong
HONG KONG--The luxury fashion brand Chanel has launched its Chanel Contemporary Art Container in one of the world's most fashion-oriented cities, Hong Kong. The Chinese territory is the first stop in a global tour that will continue until 2010, with stops in Tokyo, New York, London, and Paris.

The 700 square-meter mobile pod, engineered as a collapsible exhibition pavilion, was designed by Zaha Hadid, who teamed up with fashion icon and Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld and 20 cutting-edge artists from around the world to complete the project. Participants include Yoko Ono and Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki. The exhibition features installations, sculpture, and videos based on Chanel handbags dating back decades.

Yao Ming out for season with stress fracture in left foot
HOUSTON--A grueling schedule playing for both the Houston Rockets and China’s national basketball team--one of the strongest basketball teams in Asia--has taken a toll on star center Yao Ming. The 7'6" player will miss the remainder of this year’s National Basketball Association season because of a stress fracture in his left foot, according to the Rockets official web site.

For Chinese basketball teams, and Mr. Yao’s sponsors such as McDonald’s Corp. and Reebok, there is concern about whether he’ll be well enough to play--or at least play at his usual stellar level--in the Olympics this summer, since it will take up to four months for his foot to heal. The injury is also a major blow for the Rockets. A six-time All Star center, Mr. Yao helped the Houston team win 12 consecutive games. The team lost the one game he has missed this season.

Disney launches video-on-demand service in Hong Kong
HONG KONG--Disney TV, part of the Disney-ABC Television Group, has launched a subscription video-on-demand service on PCCW’s now TV, a Hong Kong pay-TV operator and a world leader in IPTV. The service will give Hong Kong kids the ability to watch Disney Channel and Playhouse Disney programming on demand under a fixed monthly subscription plan.

The service will include hit Disney Channel shows including Hannah Montana, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, That’s So Raven, Lilo & Stitch, and Emperor’s New School and the 2006 film, Disney Channel Original Movie High School Musical. The preschool channel Playhouse Disney offers Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Little Einsteins, Higglytown Heroes and JoJo’s Circus.

The PCCW deal is Disney TV’s second broadband service launch in the region. In January 2008, Disney rolled out full-length Mandarin-dubbed and Chinese-subtitled episodes of its programming streamed in Taiwan at Disney Channel SVOD on now TV is part of the U.S. entertainment company’s wider digital media strategy that reflects the evolving media consumption habits of kids and families as they increasingly favor digital entertainment.

VW unveils Olympic torch convey vehicles
BEIJING--Two months ahead of the Olympic torch arriving in China, Volkswagen has unveiled vehicles created with Olympic designs. They will be part of a convoy of 1,000 cars accompanying the Olympic flame on its path across China.

VW and its joint ventures are one of the official suppliers for the torch relay, which has the longest duration, the largest number of participants and covers the widest geographical area in Olympic history. The journey will require 346 vehicles for the core convoys, 583 for administration and support cars and 30 for security and media.

Forty convoys will carry the relay through China. The 97-day relay will cover more than 40,000 kilometers, starting in Sanya in southern China on May 4 and ending in Beijing in time for the opening ceremony on Aug. 8. The torch will be carried through 113 cities and regions from all 31 provinces, including the top of Mount Everest.
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