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The A Women do Hong Kong

Childhood friends turned grown-up collaborators, Hannah Moon and Joanna Bence took their in-development documentary The A Women to the Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF) this week, looking for commentary and collaboration.

The A team: producer Joanna Bence and director Hannah Moon

The A team: producer Joanna Bence and director Hannah Moon

Their documentary was one of five in HAF’s 30-strong project selection which spent three days in meetings with potential collaborators and funders.

The A Women is the first Australasian project in HAF for a few years, the last being Ali’s Wedding from Matchbox Pictures’ Tony Ayres and producer Helen Panckhurst in 2012.

The A women are China’s educated and independent women in their late 20s or older who are not yet married. The Chinese term for them is “Shengnu” or, bluntly, “leftover women”. An unintended by-product of the one-child policy which saw a lot more boys than girls born in China, they’re considered undesirable partners by virtue of being educated and independent.

“A” men choose to marry “B” women, “B” men choose “C” women, so it goes on and those women who would probably be regarded as the cream of the crop by western standards are the ones not finding partners.

Rather than put together some exposé-style outraged western feminist take on the situation, Moon and Bence are developing a stylised, character-led doco in the style of David Gelb’s Jiro Dreams of Sushi or Zach Heinzerling’s Cutie & The Boxer, both award-winning festival favourites.

So far, Screen Australia has given the project development support, which enabled Moon to move to China last September to immerse herself in on-the-ground research. In June last year Bence took the project to Russia to present the project at Moscow’s Business Square co-production market.

Being the first Australian project selected created a bit of buzz around The A Women, which was great for driving awareness. Bence was realistic about not expecting to leave Moscow with funding in place, but was pleased with the feedback she received. The trip, and the outcomes from it, were important in getting Screen Australia support, according to Bence.

When SCREENZ spoke with Bence and Moon at HAF (on the second day of the three-day event) they were very positive about the meetings they’d taken to that point. Moon reckoned they were close to finding some of the collaborators they’d like to have on board.

Moon’s six months or so in Ningbo have been spent on learning Mandarin, doing research and finding potential subjects. Moon will shortly move to Shanghai to take advantage of the greater opportunities for work, while the project continues to advance.

The major scheduling constraint for the project is that bulk of it needs to be shot in the lead up to and during Chinese New Year (February), when families reunite. It’s a time when Shengnu can bring shame to their families by returning home still single, perceived as incapable of securing a husband.

Whether that shoot happens over Chinese New Year 2016 or 2017 depends on how things go between now and then. Bence and Moon will continue to raise finance, to seek production collaborators and track the lives of their prospective Shengnu. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if one snagged a husband during production, Moon reckoned, as that would introduce a different perspective.

At present Bence and Moon haven’t confirmed The A Women for any further project markets, although the Shanghai International Film Festival’s Pitch and Catch in June might be a natural fit for a project that’s set three hours down the road.

HAF has a solid track record of selecting projects that go forward to production rather than wither on the development vine. Around half of those projects presented at the 2012 and 2013 editions of HAF are complete or currently in production. They include Naomi Kawase’s Still the Water, which premiered in competition at Cannes last year, and Morgan Matthews’ X + Y which premiered at Toronto last September and has just opened in NZ.

Last year’s HAF Award winner, Carrie NG’s Angel Whispers, is back this year. The film is being offered at FILMART and will open on Hong Kong screens after Easter once the HKIFF has concluded.

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

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