Hong Kong Film Fund Fuels Foray into Mainland (Berlin)

 

In the years before the government-run Hong Kong Film Development Council (FDC) began its operation in 2007, many filmmakers in Hong Kong faced the choice of leaving the industry or leaving the territory. But as the 2010 Chinese box office breaks the billion yuan mark, it's a no-brainer.

Even the business-matching platform Hong Kong and Asia Film Financing Forum is launching a Chinese language script development award for young filmmakers to get a leg up on entering the Chinese market.

"Hong Kong filmmakers have found a foothold in the Chinese market," says Wellington Fung, Secretary-General of the Hong Kong Film Development Council. "Funding is much easier to find compared with four to five years ago."

It's a sea change from the mid 2000s, when local productions, and, more importantly, local financing, dropped to an all-time-low that forced filmmakers to ask the government for help.

During its four-year operation, the FDC has won the appreciation of filmmakers. Its involvement has become a "stamp of quality" of sorts, evident in the 2010 Berlin Crystal Bear winner Echoes of the Rainbow by director-producer-writer team Alex Law and Mabel Cheung, and last summer's surprise indie hit The Breakup Club, both of which FDC-funded. The publicity followed by Echoes' Berlin accolade and subsequent HK$23 million ($3 million) gross helped make FDC the focal point of local filmmakers as a means to attract other investors. And now it seems that many of the filmmakers, whether veteran or young blood, do not even need the government's help.

Since 2007, the Film Development Fund under the FDC has invested almost HK$40 million ($5 million) in 14 film projects out of the HK$300 million ($38.5 million) the government set aside for the film industry. Although projects with more diversified subject matter are getting FDC investment approval, such as 80s hitmaker Wong Jing, whose new comedy Micro Sex Office received HK$1.7 million ($218,000) from the FDC, it's clear that the organization's main objective is not to co-financing local films. HK$104 million ($13.4 million) has been used to subsidize 54 film-related projects, such as the Hong Kong Film Awards, the Asian Film Awards, sponsorships for filmmakers' participation in overseas film festivals, and even short films representing Hong Kong to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

Fung estimates that the rest of the fund would be exhausted in the next three years, and the FDC is open to the question of whether to get more from the government to keep the ball rolling.

"What we need is a conceptual shift, from the investor's point of view of gambling on a film's box office, to creating revenue streams in a series of products," Fung explains. "We have to move from a vertical to a horizontal value chain. We can learn to generate revenue from ancillary products, as is the norm in the U.S. and Europe." To that end, FDC is organizing a symposium called Beyond Box Office to be held on March 22 and 23 alongside the Hong Kong Filmart.

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