Bigger HK Filmart opens Entertainment Expo

Seeks must-attend status on market calendar

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HONG KONG -- The 11th annual Hong Kong Filmart set out to prove that bigger is better this year and appeared to have done just that as more than 450 exhibitors and 12,000 guests gathered for Tuesday's kickoff to the 23-day Hong Kong Entertainment Expo.

"The market is full-on," said Michael Werner, co-chairman of Hong Kong-Based Fortissimo Films, which doubled its booth size and brought in an extra staffer from Europe to help this year.

"More people are willing to invest the time and money to come here and spend more than just a few days," added Werner, whose calendar was packed from morning until the wee hours all week.

The head count increased from everywhere in the region, with Vietnam's contingent up to 86 people from last year's 45, and the number of Malaysian companies growing to 27 from 20 in 2006, with five signing deals.

The market was physically bigger as well, as the concurrent Hong Kong Asian Film Financing Forum and Filmart seminars on new-media distribution and talent management moved upstairs, leaving more room for buying and selling on the main floor of the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Center.

Trying to shrug off its reputation as a market that suffers from being squeezed between the Berlin and Cannes film festivals in February and May, Hong Kong is trying to turn that timing to its advantage to become a must-attend event in the film calendar.

"Hong Kong is now firmly established as the preparation market for the deals that will be concluded at Cannes," said Thomas Leong, CEO of Hong Kong-based Lotus Entertainment.

For critics and festival programrs from around the world, Hong Kong is increasingly important for featuring a wider variety of films both big and small, art house and commercial.

"Everybody with new projects I need to see is here, so that's very good," said Shelly Kraicer, Vancouver International Film Festival programmer.

Hong Kong's government recently set up a film development fund of HK$300 million ($38.5 million) for innovative medium- and small-budget projects, but honoring films of all sizes from the region was the inspiration behind this year's inaugural Asian Film Awards (HR 3/20).

At the black-tie awards ceremony, Hong Kong secretary of commerce Joseph Wong noted his pleasure at the burgeoning Hong Kong-Hollywood connection, boasting his pride in the fact that Martin Scorsese won his first Oscar for "The Departed," which was based on Hong Kong feature "Infernal Affairs" by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak.

Hong Kong International Film Festival Society Chairman Wilfred Wong said that while the awards cost roughly HKD$10 million ($1.25 million) to mount, the full budget had yet to be determined because "money is still going out." Half of the funding came courtesy of the Hong Kong government and half from the HKIFF society, which gathered sponsorship from the likes of Deutsche Bank, whose Hong Kong officer Peter Lo is a friend, Wong said.

Though Deutsche Bank is not yet in the business of film financing, Lo "understands the need to support creativity and Hong Kong at the same time," Wong said.

On Day 1 of the market, Wong said he already was thinking about ways to improve the event next year, including shortening the period over which the events are stretched -- to two weeks from three -- and increasing the participation of the local commercial cinemas.

One advantage of the Hong Kong screenings for reviewers and programrs is the presence of films from mainland China that seldom make it abroad after tangling with state censors or falling short of funds in China's nascent film market.

"We have always been proud that, as a Special Administrative Region, Hong Kong can maintain its independence and focus on the art and leave the politics aside," Wong said.

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