Hong Kong Filmart wraps with raves, rips

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HONG KONG -- The 11th annual Hong Kong Filmart received mixed reviews from attendees as a week of handshake dealmaking and negotiations came to an end Friday.

Several companies said that they had concluded deals at Filmart but were holding off on making announcements until May's Festival de Cannes, where they expected they could make more of a splash.

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

"There were more people this year, but less product," said Bey Logan, the Weinstein Co.'s chief Asia representative. "It's a valid market, and we were running around very busy all week, but there was lots in development but little ready to go."

Japanese studio Kadokawa, on the other hand, was effusive about this year's Filmart. "We've been very busy," Kadokawa Pictures' Sekine Tetsuya said. "The first day at our first meeting we sold a film to a Thai distributor."

Shuji Sato, head of international sales at Pony Canyon, said the first two days were particularly intense but trailed off significantly by the third day.

Australia Film Commission trade commissioner CEO Mark Woods was specifically critical of the new structure of the festival. "It's overspecialized, spread too thin, and there's no traffic," Woods said. "Compared to last year, there's no energy."

Woods' complaint stemmed from the new, specialized sections at this year's Filmart, such as the Location World and TV World.

The Locations market in particular got an extra drubbing. "The Asian companies don't come because of their budgets," Woods said. "It's not like the Locations Expo in L.A. People here are not interested in locations. They already know the locations they want to use, they come here looking for money."

"The locations commissions are all comped. They aren't bringing in new people," Woods added, referring the common practice of offering exhibitors free hotel accommodations for the duration of their stay as well as deep discounts on booth rental.

Woods' advice? "Don't ghettoize the sections. You need foot traffic. Energy feeds on energy."

Other locations participants agreed with Woods, saying that they felt the market section lacked foot-traffic from producers who were busy upstairs in a separate hall at the Hong Kong Asian Film Financing Forum.

Michael Werner, co-chairman of Fortissimo Films in Hong Kong, said his company had doubled its booth size and brought in extra staffers, adding that his week was "packed" with meetings.

In other Filmart news, a survey released at the event Friday by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council noted that China has the biggest growth potential in the digital entertainment, television and film sector.

The face-to-face survey, which asked 332 industry players from around the world about industry trends, claims that the answers reveal that "more television professionals plan to expand their business in China (90%)" than anywhere else.

Eighty-six percent of respondents said they would expand their TV business in Hong Kong, a city that more than half also identified as "the best place to reach out to the mainland and other Asian areas in exploring co-production opportunities," the report said.

The survey results showed that more than half of respondents had bought entertainment content from Hong Kong in the past year and that even more intended to source entertainment content there in the next 12 months. China, Japan, Korea and Thailand followed Hong Kong in terms of content acquisition, according to the report.

Ninety percent of respondents said that digital entertainment had the greatest growth potential, followed by television (78%) and film (68%).

In a final-day panel discussion about the way the Internet is affecting the world of entertainment, executives from U.S.-based Jaman.com, a social networking site for movie lovers launched in February, boasted that it now offers 1,000 titles for purchase and rent online, including many movies from such Asian companies as Celestial, Arclight, MK Pictures and Cineclick.

"If you offer a high-quality product at a fair price, people will prefer to purchase it than pirate it," Jaman senior vp operations Carlos Montalvo said.

Mark Russell contributed to this report.
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