Five films score HAF cash awards

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HONG KONG -- Five films won awards valued at $97,000 Thursday at the closing ceremony of the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum, where one local winner found additional funding on his own.

Chosen from 25 projects, the five winning films were led by director Clara Law's "The Messenger," which won both the $13,000 HAF Award for a Hong Kong project and the Technicolor Thailand Post-production Service Award.

Law, an Australian Chinese known for her films "Goddess of 1967" and "Floating Life," said that the awards would not quite complete the financing she and producer Sue Maslin need to finish the $6 million mystery love story about a psychic helping a policeman on a missing persons case.

"Oh, no, this won't finish the film, but the award is good encouragement and hopefully will arouse greater interest," Law said, noting that Maslin's next stop is Cannes in May.

The HAF Award of $13,000 for a project from outside Hong Kong went to Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda for his "Night-fragrant Flower," based on the true story of 1930s Chinese actress Li Xiangian, who was sentenced to death for treason.

The Rome Film Festival Award for $15,000 went to South Korean director Kim Jee-Woon's "The Good, the Bad and the Weird," an Asian twist on the spaghetti Westerns popularized by Italian cinema icon Sergio Leone. The film is set to start shooting in China this year.

The HAF project that secured financing on its own was Hong Kong director Pang Ho Cheung's "Now Showing" which drew funds of an undisclosed amount from Hong Kong-based Sundream Motion Pictures and Beijing-based Huayi Brothers Film Investment Ltd.

"Now Showing," a black comedy about class and racial tension in Hong Kong, also won one of the two $13,000 value in-kind awards presented by the Hong Kong Cyperport for projects showing narrative imagination and technical excellence.

The second Cyperport award went to Chinese director Jia Zhangke for his project "Shuang Xiong Hui" an epic romance set in the politically tumultuous Hong Kong of the 1950s, where many Chinese from the mainland landed after fleeing the new communist government.

Also awarded were two fellowships given to cinematographers Nghiem-Min Nguyen-Vo ("Point of Reference") and Francis Ng ("Bema's Tear") by the Sony Corporation of Hong Kong. The winners get air tickets, hotel accommodation and free admission to the CineAlta high-definition cinematography workshop in Thailand.

HAF was organized by the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council and the Hong Kong Kowloon & New Territories Motion Picture Industry Assn.

First-time HAF visitors expressed pleasure with the market overall, saying that after suffering initial troubles getting badges and registration sorted, they had met everyone they had wanted to.

"The market was well administered and increased the chances of our doing all kinds of deals," said Lewis Kim, head of international business at Barunson, the up and coming South Korean film production house behind award winner "The Good, the Bad, and the Weird."

Kim said he hoped to have a finance deal stemming from meetings taken at HAF ready to announce by the Cannes.

"We've had 20 appointments in three days and are hopeful this trip will pay off," said Leah Churchill Brown, executive producer of Australian director Rachel Ward's "Beautiful Kate," the first film with no Asian content accepted at HAF.

Jacob Wong, HAF director, said that this year's matchmaking market had pleased him for its diversity, adding that further expansion might be on the cards for 2008.

"A lot of Asians with roots in North America are asking if their projects would qualify for HAF, and I have to say we are thinking about it," Wong said.
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