Asian Film Awards Announces Ambitious Relaunch With Support From Top Festivals

The heads of the Hong Kong, Tokyo and Busan film festivals have joined forces in a bid to elevate the AFA's to greater international influence and prestige.

The heads of the Hong Kong, Tokyo and Busan international film festivals have teamed up to form the Asian Film Awards Academy, a new pan-regional organization that will take over as the official organizer of the Hong Kong-based Asian Film Awards (AFAs). With the backing of the region's most influential festivals, the rebranded movie awards show can be expected to carry greater legitimacy and influence across Asia. 

The 8th edition of the AFAs will also move from Hong Kong to the glitzy casino city of Macau, to be held at the City of Dreams Macau's House of Dancing Water theater, custom built for Franco Dragon's signature acrobatic water show at a cost of $250 million in 2010. 

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The executive committee of the AFA Academy will be chaired by Wilfred Wong Ying-wai, chairman of the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society, with committee members including Lee Yong-kwan, director of South Korea's Busan International Film Festival and Yasushi Shiina, director general of the Tokyo International Film Festival and Japan's TIFFCOM market.

“The principal players in getting the AFA Academy off the ground are representatives of the three long established and major film festivals in Asia,” said Wong in a statement. “Their experience, involvement and collaboration will help to ensure a broader reach across Asia, and reflect the film industries, trends and audience tastes in the region.”

Lee suggested the new body will help the film industries of Asia present a more united front to the world: "The new attempt and changes to the organization of the AFA -- with the combined effort of Hong Kong, Busan and Tokyo International Film Festivals -- will transcend barriers and borders and play an important part in pan-Asian development and the globalization of Asian cinemas."

Wong also said that representatives of other film festivals in Asia might be added as the AFA Academy develops.

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"I always think that the awards lack legitimacy if it's only organized by Hong Kong, but when we first started it was difficult to negotiate with other countries," Wong told The Hollywood Reporter. "But as we build the awards in scale and accomplishment, the other festivals took notice."

The group came together at the Beijing International Film Festival last April to discuss the establishment of the Academy, which was incorporated in Hong Kong.

"We've built a platform for the exchange of film culture in Hong Kong, so that it can be the hub of Asian filmmaking," stated Wong.

The administration of the Academy is now being taken care of by DotAsia Organization, a not-for-profit, community membership-based organization aimed to promote internet development in Asia. But the Academy will gradually develop to hire staff of its own.

The Academy will invite the over 500 past Asian Film Awards nominees and winners to become Academy members for the nomination and voting of awards.

The decision to move this year's awards to Macau is part of a strategy to gain legitimacy for the awards. "It doesn't do just to have the awards take place in Hong Kong. In coming years, I hope we will stage the awards in other countries," said Wong. "The awards might become a part of the festivals in Busan or Tokyo; it hasn't been decided yet. But we are planning to have the awards take place in the first half of the year every year. Take, for example, the Beijing International Film Festival that is held in April and the Shanghai International Film Festival in June -- we can also become a part of the program of those festivals."

The budget of the awards this year is about $1.93 million (HK$15 million), with none of the funds supplied by the Hong Kong government, which subsidizes the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society, which has organized the Asian Film Awards for the last seven years.

"From the 8th Asian Film Awards onwards, we've broken apart from the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society. Our entire budget comes from sponsorships. One of our co-organizers, the Macau Media Advancement Association, is asking for subsidy from the Macau government for us," said Wong.

Added Shiina: “I hope that the Asian Film Awards Academy will develop further and continue to contribute to cultural development in Asia, and enhance the status of Asian films worldwide.”
The award ceremony will be held at the City of Dreams Macau casino on March 27.