EmptyHONG KONG -- As the Chinese saying goes, chances are often found in dangerous situations, and on the eve of the 13th edition of the Hong Kong Filmart attendees throughout the Asian film sector might find themselves repeating that mantra if they hope to generate opportunities in an increasingly dangerous global economy.
But after lackluster business at last month's European Film Market and AFM in October, one has to wonder how many chances will actually exist at this year's Filmart, set for March 23-26 at the Hong Kong Conventions and Exhibitions Center.
"Bad situations can sometimes be a chance," says Azusa Soya, international promotion manager of Unijapan, Japan's association for international film promotion. She points to the fact that more Japanese companies are coming to Hong Kong this year as proof that all is not lost: "We saw that (fewer) Asian companies attended Berlin's market, but they decided to go to Hong Kong instead. Japanese companies are focusing on selling to Asian markets and they are hoping to do it in Hong Kong."
Indeed, 11 companies will be making the trek to Hong Kong under the Unijapan umbrella, while newcomers to Filmart, like Yoshimoto Tokyo, will be setting up their own booths for the first time.
Soya isn't the only attendee who's trying to stay optimistic.
"We have (high) expectations," says Frederick Tsui, distribution and production senior manager of Media Asia. "Since the attendance of Asian buyers to Berlin has dropped this year, we are hoping they'll be coming to Hong Kong instead."
Organizers have recorded more than 2,800 registered visitors for this year's market, up from 2,600 last year. The arrival of buyers from new regions like the Middle East might lead to a lucrative new platform for dealmaking. "Filmart will be a time for communication," says Alvin Lam, COO of Universe International Holdings, which will be promoting its high-profile 2009 release "The Storm Warriors" during the market. "We'll be focusing on Asian buyers this year, and we'd also like to meet buyers from new regions such as the Middle East to know more about their markets. We don't get to meet buyers and distributors except during trade fairs."
"We've been spending more time in our international offices to recruit buyers with purchase power in the Middle East and Asia," adds Keith Cheng, Hong Kong Trade Development Council service promotion manager.
Diversifying market attendance is a strategy that has proved successful so far: More than 500 exhibitors are set to participate in the four-day trade fair this year, marking an increase of 5% from last year.
This growth makes up the inevitable drop in numbers of buyers from North America and Europe, who Cheng says are reluctant to spend on costly long-haul flights. "Major American and European companies that used to send two to three representatives here are now cutting costs, so some of them now send only one person to represent the company and its subsidiaries."
While growth has slipped slightly from the 6.6% increase Filmart saw between 2007 and 2008, organizers are content with the event's steady expansion, especially among Asian attendees. The market will see a 50% increase of exhibitors from Japan alone, and 40% more from China. In all, 117 exhibitors, including film companies, digital entertainment and animation studios and television networks will be in attendance, including the China Radio and Television Assn. -- which represents 600 stations in China -- making its market debut.
The decline in number of American and European buyers is to be expected, but the introduction of buyers from new regions will hopefully lead to increased dialogue about the issues facing Asian cinema. Sharing ideas is a function that many veteran exhibitors see Filmart increasingly fulfilling, and, given the current economic uncertainty surrounding the global film business, the need for communication this year will be more pronounced than ever.
Still, Universe International Holdings' Lam is cautious.
"We don't dare to have high hopes for the business at this year's Filmart, especially after what we've heard about the market being very quiet in Berlin," he admits. "But hopefully we'll know more about the general atmosphere after Filmart. We'll wait and see."