Filmart doc forum kicks off

Documentary panel lands in Hong Kong with lively debate

HONG KONG -- A lively session of nonfiction film pitching to public broadcasters from around the world kicked off the inaugural Asian Side of the Doc co-production meeting at the Hong Kong Filmart on Monday.

The first Eastern hemisphere edition of the Sunny Side of the Doc franchise founded by Yves Jeanneau 20 years ago in France, the session attracted about 100 participants to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center.

Trailers for proposed films by Europeans about the history of Vatican diplomacy and the legacy of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster met with raised eyebrows from Asians in the audience, but enthusiasm picked up from everyone present upon hearing the pitch for a "The Other Side," a documentary about China-Taiwan relations.

Produced by non-profit CNEX, winner of the best documentary award at Venice in 2009, "The Other Side" will use the stories of common fishermen, among other characters, in an attempt to offer answers to the question "What happens next in the 60-year stand- off," said Ben Tsiang, the Beijing-based CEO of CNEX.

Co-directed by Zhou Hao from China and Tsai Tsung-lung from Taiwan, CNEX "will each shoot in their countries and then swap footage and edit different versions," Tsiang said.

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Nicholas Fraser, producer of award-winning Storyville documentary series at the British Broadcasting Corp. called the CNEX pitch "brilliant," but wondered aloud how the producers could maintain independence making such a politically sensitive film.

Tsiang answered that CNEX gets all its funding from private sources and takes no government money.

Other pubcaster buyers also responded positively and offered constructive criticism. Hamish Mykura, head of documentaries for Channel 4 in the U.K. said, "The film should let the characters' stories develop the underlying issues."

The filmmaker-broadcaster exchange afforded event organizer Yves Jeanneau the chance to hammer home the point of the exercise: "This meeting is about learning how to develop a film's point of view."

CNEX is looking for $120,000 to finish the project already partly funded by the Straight Exchange Foundation and the PBS Foundation of Taiwan, and the Jan Vrijman Fund of the Netherlands.

Over three days, Asian Side of the Docs seminars and one-on-one meetings will introduce the European and Asian producers of 24 selected projects to 60 distributors and decision makers from both continents, including 15 European broadcasters such as Schreiner Claudia of ARD of Germany, Jean Rozat of ARTE of France and Truyen Barbara of VPRO of the Netherlands.

A 3D documentaries conference will be held on Wednesday, led by National Film Board of Canada President Tom Perlmutter and Samantha Woods of Orange/3D.

Others in attendance included Kenny Bae Kihyung of the Korean Broadcasting System, Leland Ling of Beijing-based LIC, Mok Choy Lin of the National Geographic Channel Asia, Ying Qiming of the Shanghai Media Group, and John Godfrey of SBS Australia.

Though Bae of SBS said the subject of nuclear disaster addressed in the pitch for "17 Days of Chernobyl" by Zero One Film of Germany, he said there was a problem. "Atomic catastrophe can happen anywhere, but Chernobyl is not particularly relevant to Asian countries," Bae said.

Mok of NatGeo said a growing audience allowed her increasingly to commission projects specifically for Asia but that their budgets were significantly smaller than the $180,000 typically offered for projects geared toward the West.

"This is partly because many Asians want to see human interest docs which cost less to make than big budget wildlife or nature films," Mok said.

Asian Side of the Doc was organized by Sunny Side of the Doc as a follow up to its earlier forays into Latin- and North America and into Eastern Europe. The program was co-organized by Sinapses Asia with the support of MEDIA International of the European Union and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council in partnership with ARTE, France's Center National de la CineALmatographie, VODEO and the NBF.