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HKIFF 2015 takes undead

There’ll be no hat-trick of prizes for NZ shorts at this year’s Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF), but two NZ features are selected.

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What We Do in the Shadows

Recently NZ has had a good run in the festival’s Short Film competition, one of very few competitive strands in the HKIFF programme. Zia Mandviwalla’s Night Shift won the HKIFF Firebird in 2013. Last year Leo Woodhead’s Cold Snap took away the Jury Prize. This year, there’s no NZ short selected in the 22-title line-up.

Toa Fraser’s The Dead Lands and Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows will both play. It’ll be interesting to see how The Dead Lands plays in what’s historically been the martial arts movie capital of the world.

The Dead Lands

The Dead Lands

From across the ditch, Rolf de Heer’s much-awarded Charlie’s Country plays in the 12-strong Signis competition line-up, which rewards titles “that express social and humanitarian concerns as well as spiritual and artistic values”.

Always an eclectic affair, the HKIFF makes up for anything it lacks in prestige with a huge programme. The festival will screen 264 titles from 56 countries, of which almost a third will have their world, international or Asian premieres in Hong Kong.

While it may not have the A list status of some of Asia’s festivals, it knows its audience, delivers, and is rewarded with great attendance numbers. Indeed, so successful is the festival with locals that it runs a year-round programme of screenings with international filmmakers under its CineFan brand.

Former HKIFF vice chair Sylvia Chang and present HKIFF vice chair Johnnie To

Former HKIFF vice chair Sylvia Chang and present HKIFF vice chair Johnnie To

Taiwanese actor, writer and director Sylvia Chang is the festival’s filmmaker focus this year and presents the world premiere of her Murmur of the Hearts as the HKIFF opener. Chang now chairs Taiwan’s Golden Horse Film Festival, which includes what’s arguably Asia’s most prestigious awards bash. She’s a former vice chair of the HKIFF.

From beyond Asia, British auteur Peter Greenaway is probably the biggest name among the confirmed participants. The director of The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover; The Draughtsman’s Contract and A Zed and Two Noughts will present a masterclass, as well as screenings of his Berlinale competition entry Eisenstein in Guanajuato.

One of the first major international festivals after Berlin, the HKIFF will welcome a posse of mostly European titles which premiered in Germany, including Jafar Panahi’s Golden Bear winner Taxi.

Local fare at the festival isn’t afforded as many of the prime slots as last year, when two Hong Kong titles opened the HKIFF. Fruit Chan, director of one of those 2014 opening titles (The Midnight After) returns this year with documentary My City, about much-loved Chinese writer Xi Xi. Ann Hui’s biopic of a Chinese writer Xiao Hong, which leads the nominations pack for the Asian Film Awards, gets an encore screening at the festival.

Less arty but very Hong Kong, Lau Ho-leung’s crime comedy Two Thumbs Up looks promising, and many locals will get their first look at Herman Yau’s Sara. Given a very limited run out late last year to qualify it for a festival competition, the film marks third feature from Yau set in a red-light district (after Whispers and Moans and True Women For Sale).

 Charlene Choi and Simon Yam won awards in Macau early this year for in their performances in Sara

Charlene Choi and Simon Yam won awards in Macau early this year for in their performances in Sara

For those interested in exploring co-production opportunities with Hong Kong filmmakers, there was good news in the HK government’s budget. Announced a day ahead of the HKIFF programme, the budget committed new spending of HK$200 million (cNZ$36 million) for film development.

The Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF, 23 March – 6 April) runs as part of the Hong Kong Entertainment Expo. Other events include FILMART (23 – 26 March), the Hong Kong Asia Financing Forum (HAF, 23 – 25 March), and the Hong Kong Film Awards (22 April) . The Asian Film Awards (AFA), of which the HKIFF is an organiser, runs 25 March in Macau.

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