Sneezing Baby Panda set for release in China
South Australian filmmakers Jenny Walsh and Lesley Hammond’s Sneezing Baby Panda will get a wide release in Chinese cinemas.
Walsh and Hammond were filming a mother panda and her cub in China when the baby Panda sneezed and nearly blew the mother out of the enclosure.
Their video went viral, has had millions of hits and been featured on countless chat shows including Ellen. The pair decided to make a feature film to try to find Chi Chi, the baby panda in the clip.
The mockumentary follows an Australian zoologist, Marnie (Amber Clayton), who is on the hunt for a star attraction to help her struggling zoo. After seeing the sneezing baby panda video, she falls in love with the cuddly cub and realises Chi Chi could save her zoo. Marnie sets out on a journey to China to track down this elusive panda, and so begins an action-packed adventure. .
Last week the film secured a theatrical release in China through a Chinese entertainment industry group/conglomerate, which will involve a gradual roll-out across the three biggest cinema chains, China Film Group, Wanda Cinemas and Dadi Cinemas, probably starting on July 1.
Hammond tells IF the Chinese release is innovative because the film will play on all three circuits. It qualifies as an unofficial Chinese co-production (China Film Assist is the local partner) and thus avoids the annual cap on importing foreign films.
The finance came from the 40% producer offset, China Film Assist, private investors and the filmmakers. Hammond said Screen Australia turned down the pitch for funding because it did not think the project was commercial and it does not follow the conventional three-act structure.
The agency may have to eat its words in light of the Chinese release and deals with Viva Pictures in the US, lnter Film in Japan and Kaleidoscope in the UK/Ireland. International sales agent Shoreline Entertainment aims to close sales to Europe at the Cannes market.
Walsh and Hammond are now shooting a theatrical documentary with the working title Concert of the Wild. Loosely inspired by Fantasia, it will feature Australian animals, including footage from the duo's wildlife programs, and a classical music score.
Sneezing Baby Panda was filmed in Sichuan Province (the area that was struck by an earthquake several years ago) and other provinces including Heilongjiang, Shaanxi, Zhejiang, Yunnan, Anhui and Tibet.
Lesley and Jenny were the first Western film crew to be allowed in the Chang Tang plateau in Tibet, filming wild yak. They had developed a relationship with the Wolong Centre for Breeding the Giant Panda, the main panda breeding place in China, which gave them access that is usually denied other producers, particularly Western producers.
The film had its Australian premiere at The Big Picture Film Festival on March 29. It begins a limited release via Potential Films on May 1 at locations including:
Mitcham Cinemas SA
Mt Barker SA
Forum Tamworth NSW
Forum Wagga NSW
Odeon Orange NSW
Limelight Canberra ACT