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Hong Kong: hot, steamy and ready for action

In March and April, Hong Kong will host its annual Entertainment Expo – nine entertainment industry events, all bar two of which are screen-related – attracting more than a few thousand additional visitors to the territory from all over the place, including some well-known names from here.

In brief, the somewhat crowded diary reads as:

  • Hong Kong Independent Short Film and Video Awards (IFVA), 12-21 March
  • Hong Kong Music Fair, 20-22 March
  • Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF), 21 March-6 April
  • Asian Film Awards (AFA), 22 March
  • Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF), 22-24 March
  • Filmart, 22-25 March
  • Digital Entertainment Leadership Forum (DELF), 23 March
  • IFPI Hong Kong Top Sales Music Award, 7 April
  • Hong Kong Film Awards, 18 April

… and let us not forget the Hong Kong leg of the Rugby Sevens on 27-28 March.

While there is a limited amount of direct NZ interest in some of these events, there is interest, which is more than could have been said even 5 years ago. There’s also a considerable amount of interesting business going forward at and around the events.

The Asian Film Awards (nominees here) and Hong Kong Film Awards don’t have a lot to offer from a Kiwi perspective, other than alerting people to films worth seeking out that might have slipped under the radar.

Last year, Craig Hayes won the VFX award at both ceremonies for Red Cliff, which did its post at Park Road. The other award ceremony, The Independent Short Film and Video Awards, is the least commercial of the events on offer, running a Hong Kong competition with four categories (Open, Youth, Animation and Interactive Media) as well as an Asia-wide competition, Asian New Force.

The programme for HKIFF will be released 25 February, so it’s unknown if any NZ films will make the cut. Demonstrating the increasing interest in Asian screens and screen industries, the festival reported last month that it had received a record number of submissions, up 220% on 2009.

804 films, 602 of them features, were submitted from 69 countries, with a big jump in the number of films being submitted from outside Asia.

The 202 short film entries acknowledge the thirst for competition, as 2010 sees the first Short Film Competition at HKIFF.

The full programme is released later this month, prior to bookings opening on 25 February. The only films announced at present are restored prints of Fritz Lang’s 1927 Metropolis and Powell & Pressburger’s The Red Shoes, which most film students will have seen and pored over at some point. Mei Fu’s 1940 Hong Kong film Confucius, probably less seen as it was lost for 50 years, will also screen in all its lovingly restored glory.

The festival has announced that over 250 films from more than 50 countries will screen in 11 venues. Last year festival screenings attracted over half a million paying punters.

The financing forum HAF has a strong track record of helping to bring projects to both domestic and international audiences. Partnering with a number of international organisations, the forum provides a first look option for projects that are well advanced as well as development and production support and finance to projects in their earlier stages. Projects are submitted, with the HAF organisers selecting 20-25 each year to participate.

European festivals including Locarno, CineMart/Rotterdam, Paris and the Festival de Cannes, as well as Korea’s Pusan festival, help filmmakers access an international network. Over the last few years, several films selected for HAF have screened in and out of competition at over 20 major international festivals.

Last year, Kinatay (aka The Execution of P) won the Award for Best Director at Cannes and City of Life and Death (aka Nanjing! Nanjing!) is currently doing the rounds on the international festival circuit.

While HAF is mainly of interest to those seeking to invest in Asian productions or pick up completed or near-completed Asian films for distribution or festival screenings, that might change over the coming years.

NZ Trade Minister Tim Groser will be making the trip to Hong Kong to sign the NZ-HK Closer Economic Partnership (CEP) on 29 March. This is only the second free trade agreement to be signed by Hong Kong after its CEPA with mainland China – so the first one that really counts as international. It’s another step on the road towards a NZ-HK co-production treaty, which is likely to follow the expected signing of a NZ-China co-production treaty this winter.

With that treaty in place, the opportunity exists – theoretically at least – for Kiwis to attend HAF looking for Asian money to fund projects with either co-production potential or a likely audience in Asia.

Co-production with Hong Kong also offers a route to exhibition in China as a domestic film, thereby avoiding the annual quota which allows only 20 foreign films to screen in China.

Filmart is, if you like, the opposite of HAF from a Kiwi perspective: designed to attract Asian money and projects away from their home countries. We call it inbound production, in the US it’s called ‘runaway’ because it is usually leaving their shores for pastures cheaper.

It is attended by Film NZ, promoting NZ both as a considerably more spacious – if cooler – location than HK and as a hotbed of filmmaking and digital entertainment talent. Film NZ has been visiting Filmart for a number of years and acting CEO, Sue Thompson, said, gAsia is a long-term strategy that requires a long-term commitment.h She regards Film NZ’s attendance (along with its presence at Busan in October) as a very cost-effective way of developing and maintaining relationships with key players in the Asian industry.

Filmart organisers, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), confirms that over 500 exhibitors from over 20 countries and regions will attend the 2010 market, making for a very busy few days, with 250 film screenings plus 60 seminars and networking sessions.

Just to make it a little busier than usual, Filmart has also introduced a documentary event this year, to run concurrently with the market. Asian Side of the Doc (ASD) will offer workshops, screenings, pitching sessions and networking events in addition to a dedicated doco marketplace, and expects around 150 attendees.

Filmart already includes two other conference slots. This year the topics will be Europe/Asia: A New Era For TV And Film Cooperation; and Computer-Generated Animation In A World After ‘Avatar’ … which leads neatly on to Weta’s Richard Taylor, who’ll be a keynote speaker at a separate conference – the Digital Entertainment Leaders Forum (DELF).

The DELF 2010 one-day conference, Seeing 2020: The Next Wave of Digital Creativity, will be hosted by organisers Cyberport. Also speaking at the event will be Glenn Entis, a computer graphics and digital media pioneer, who’s worked with Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, and co-produced Antz, Shrek and Madagascar; LucasArts’ Senior Designer, Joe Ching; and Sean Kauppinen, a regular Animfx speaker and CEO of International Digital Entertainment Agency (IDEA).

Weta and Cyberport will jointly present Dr Grordbort’s Exceptional Exhibition at Cyberport in March, following its time in Chengdu, where Weta has an interest in Green Leaf Studios, run by Kiwi Gavin Crombie. The exhibition showcases the creations of Greg Broadmore, lead designer and sculptor at Weta Workshop. Broadmore was the lead conceptual designer on District 9 and also worked on King Kong, The Chronicles of Narnia and I, Robot.

Last year, DELF had a focus on New Zealand, with host Cyberport signing a number of agreements with Wellington-based organisations.

The Entertainment Expo offers an absolute smorgasbord of screen-related activities that deserve to be savoured. In coming years, expect to see an increasing Kiwi presence.

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