For the last several years, on a balmy Monday evening in March, the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) has hosted the Asian Film Awards. This year, they’ll happen on Thursday, an hour’s ferry ride away in Macau.
The decision to shift from Hong Kong, taken by the AFA’s new organising committee, might be good for the awards. Politically, it was expedient for a multinational organising committee (the festivals of Busan, Hong Kong and Tokyo) to demonstrate new intentions by moving the event out of Hong Kong.
When the changes were announced, HKIFF Chair Wilfred Wong admitted that being Hong Kong-based had not always been in the best interests of an event that wanted to be identified not only as pan-Asian but also world-class. There were occasional perceptions of bias, some difficulties early on in reaching agreements with organisations in other countries.
But Wong and his supporters had a vision and needed the support of Hong Kong to establish and grow the event to a scale where it had pedigree, traction and the ability to attract sponsorship. Over seven years, they’ve done that.
Last year, on the Sunday preceding the awards, the AFA honoured Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; The Mummy; Far North; The Lady) at a special ceremony. This year there’ll be both Outstanding Asian Actor and Actress honorees. Carina Lau and Donnie Yen are both longtime residents of Hong Kong, the sort Hong Kong claims as its own. Neither have the international status of Yeoh.
In the AFA’s place, the Hong Kong International Film Festival has taken the Monday night slot for its opening night, so not all the glitz and glamour which spins off from the AFA event is lost. However, there are losses.
Shifting the AFA by location and date will diminish the amount of international media attention given to the opening of the HKIFF. Vice versa, without the support of a broader slate of events, the AFA might receive less attention.
But, even if the HKIFF opening turns out the stars and fires up the buzz, there will be no newly-minted award-winners or high-profile international presenters in town on on Tuesday and Wednesday – and the effects of that will be felt at FILMART and project market HAF.
The stands for national locations offices often invite their AFA nominees and winners to their stands on the days following the AFA. By Wednesday, there are many delegates who need a reason to keep traipsing the market floor. A good party plus the promise of a recognised director or actor, an A lister (by Asian if not necessarily global standards), can do the trick.
Sometimes there are actual business benefits, too.
Last year, Filipino director Jun Robles Lana presented Barber’s Tales at FILMART’s accompanying project market HAF. On the Monday evening fellow Filipino Eddie Garcia won twice at the AFA, taking the Best Actor and Most Popular Actor awards – both for his role in Lana’s previous feature, Bwakaw. To complete a Filipino hat-trick, Garcia’s vox pop gong was presented by the winner of that award the previous year, actress Eugene Domingo, for her performance in the hilarious Woman in a Septic Tank.
Both Garcia and Domingo were attached to Lana’s HAF project Barber’s Tales. The awards boost was timely and the stardust settled on Lana’s project. Barber’s Tales won the project market’s eponymous HAF Award.
That is the sort of opportunity that’s been lost this year by shifting the AFA. The number of events running simultaneously has been one of the strengths of Hong Kong’s Entertainment Expo, even if it does mean some juggling and occasional trade offs for attendees.
2014’s HAF participants might be glad Lana can’t call on the sort of award-clutching fire-power that Garcia and Domingo delivered. Lana is back at HAF this year with new drama Our Father. Domingo will be in Macau on Thursday, nominated for the Best Actress gong for her performance in Lana’s Barber’s Tales.