Hello there China as star's festival heads east

IN A disused ballroom in the Highlands, the audience sat on beanbags and paid for their tickets with fairy cakes.

But now the actress Tilda Swinton is taking her off-beat film festival from her home town of Nairn to the other side of the world – Beijing.

Cinema fans in the Chinese capital will be treated to Scottish classics, from the urban grittiness of Trainspotting to the 1945 romance I Know Where I'm Going!.

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The Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams – the title of the film festival named after the disused ballroom Swinton rented for her eight-and-a-half day event in Nairn last August – will run in Beijing from March.

The festival's co-creator, film-maker and writer Mark Cousins, confirmed that he and Swinton went to China earlier this year to look at establishing the festival. He stressed the project was still in its early stages.

He said: "We would be playing the great Scottish films with the best of Scottish music, to try to create a Scottish cinema in downtown Beijing."

Last year Cousins, whose recent work has included a documentary in Iraq, helped bring the Cinema China Film Festival to Scotland.

The actress Maggie Cheung, the leading Asian screen star of films including Hero, flew into Edinburgh for the event.

The success of the festival in Nairn attracted attention from Edinburgh to Hollywood, and the presence of Swinton, who this year won the Oscar for best actress in a supporting role, will be a major boost in China.

In Nairn, Swinton and Cousins set out to bring back the "child-like awe" of film, and her former long-time partner, the playwright and artist John Byrne, decorated the walls with thunderbolts and stars. Films there ranged from Singin' in the Rain to world cinema from Iran and Poland. Tickets cost 3 or some home-baked cakes.

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In Beijing, too, the goal is to create a unique informal atmosphere, and producer and former Edinburgh International Film Festival director Jim Hickey said the choice of films in China would be critical.

"You have got to cover the classic Scottish films, but the ones you care most about, rather than the Hollywood version of Scotland," he said.

"Maybe something like Brigadoon would go down very well, because it is so strange and magical and fantastic. Gregory's Girl could have huge appeal."

Anna Baird, of the China Now in Scotland festival taking place this year, said: "There are strong links with China at the moment and culture is one of the mechanisms for drawing our two nations together. This seems like an imaginative way to do that.

"Film is a universal language, people connect through film very easily."

The return trip to China, dubbed Cinema Scotland, has the backing of the Scottish Government.

A government spokeswoman confirmed it had been working "with a range of partners on a programme of Scottish film events at various venues in China in 2009".


LOCATION: North-east Scotland

POPULATION: Less than 7,000

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SPORTING FACILITIES: Nairn Dunbar and Nairn West 18-hole championship golf courses, swimming pool, sports centre

MAJOR SPORTING EVENTS: Walker Cup, 1999, amateur equivalent of the Ryder Cup

THEATRES: The Little Theatre

EVENTS: Nairn International Jazz Festival, Nairn Farm Show, Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams

LANGUAGES: Gaelic, English

LANDMARKS: Two beaches

CELEBRITIES: Playwright John Byrne and actress Tilda Swinton


LOCATION: Northern China

POPULATION: more than 17 million

SPORTING FACILITIES: Beijing National Stadium – the "Bird's Nest" – with an 80,000 capacity, the "Water Cube" National Aquatics Centre

MAJOR SPORTING EVENTS: The Beijing Olympics 2008

THEATRES: The newly built National Grand Theatre, seating 6,500 in three halls

EVENTS: Chinese New Year, anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party

LANGUAGE: Mandarin Chinese

LANDMARKS: The Hidden City

CELEBRITIES: Chinese President Hu Jintao

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