Garcia: Tech is the way forward

New exec director talks reveals his plan for growth

HONG KONG -- New technology-based growth is in the plan to expand the next generation of audience for the Hong Kong International Film Festival, Roger Garcia, the new executive director of the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society, told The Hollywood Reporter. 

Also high on the new head’s agenda is to develop the 33-year-old film festival and its concurrent sister events into a destination festival by utilizing star power.

Hong Kong-born Garcia, who will begin his tenure at the end of the month, is returning to the festival where he began his film industry career as the youngest-ever director of the HKIFF in 1978-80. Garcia will relocate to Hong Kong after living in California for 15 years to oversee the three events organized by the HKIFFS, namely, the HKIFF, the Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum, and the Asian Film Awards. With a head full of ideas, Garcia’s foremost undertaking in the position is to nurture a new generation of filmgoers in Hong Kong, as well as to promote Hong Kong cinema to the world.

“The HKIFF is a place that can be positioned where people can come and watch Chinese films and Hong Kong movies,” stated Garcia, who has been involved in the programming of international film festivals around the world including San Francisco, Torino and Udine.  “We need to re-think our map of the world in terms of cinema; because audiences are emerging from unexpected places – in South America, other parts of Asia, e.g. Vietnam.  I think Hong Kong, being the ultimate entrepôt and traders’ paradise, is a territory that is well-placed to seize on those moments when markets emerged, in terms of cinema, and to try and bring people together to take advantage of those opportunities. It’s not rocket science though it’s not that easy, but something that a festival should strive to do.”

The main strategy for the growth of the festival, according to Garcia, is to reach out to the younger generation through the medium they are most familiar with. “I need to develop the young community. One of my festival objectives is to try to develop the next generation of Hong Kong film people. To reach that audience, I need to meet them on their own terms. Often today, that language is the language of new technology, which is computers, Twitter, Facebook, mobile phones. So I see ourselves as a film festival becoming more engaged with using new technology to draw people to the idea of cinema, to watch films on their computers.”

Using new technology will help reach the younger generation and broaden the brand of the HKIFF, Garcia believes. “A festival is a festival and it lasts two weeks. It shows a lot of films.  And then afterwards, what happens? Everybody goes back to work? I’d like to see some elements of the festival remain online after the main event. It’s impossible for a person to watch 300 films in the space of two weeks.

"So if we can clear the rights issues, ownership issues, get agreements with the filmmakers, I’d certainly like to broaden the horizon of the audience by trying to present some of these films online.  Why not?  It’s a growing industry. I watch films streamed from my computer to my TV set in the U.S. It’s great technology, it works, it’s simple, and I watched a lot of movies that I probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise. If we can do that within a festival context, with festival films, I’m all for it. We could have a film that is streamed online, we could have the filmmaker, who doesn’t have to be in Hong Kong, host an online conference, I think that would be a great Q&A for us to host.”

Garcia added, “I’m not only reaching Hong Kong audience with an event like that, I’m probably reaching audiences all over Asia, so it’s important for me to extend the image of the HKIFF and the brand.”  

To develop a new generation of cinephiles in Hong Kong is paramount to the existence of the festival, not only as its audience, but also as the event’s future organizers. “I need to develop the next generation to run the HKIFF, quite frankly. I want the HKIFF to outlast me,” Garcia laughed. “I want the HKIFF to be a shining example of what Hong Kong can do. To do that, I need the next generation to step up. I need to develop also auxiliary careers like film critics. I need to encourage and develop a cadre of film critics.”

Also high on his agenda is to make the HKIFF a destination festival.  “Of all the cinemas in Asia, Hong Kong films are one of the best known in the world, because of directors like John Woo, movie stars like Andy Lau, Maggie Cheung, and Tony Leung.  That’s one of the things that we can play on.”

The AFA would be the vehicle for that expansion. “AFA is a celebrity event, as well as a celebration of film. There is certainly star power there that can attract people in the Asian region – Taiwan, Japan, China. Why shouldn’t they come and attend the award ceremony?"

Garcia has been an advisor to the AFA and HAF since both events’ inception, a position from which he will step down. The events are part of the annual Hong Kong Entertainment Expo held in March, which also includes Hong Kong Filmart. In 2002, as an independent consultant, Garcia recommended to the Hong Kong government the consolidation of the film events into the Expo and the corporatization of the HKIFF, then a fully-subsidized event. “I don’t think a festival should rely totally on government funding. In this day and age, I just think it’s kind of untenable as well. It’s a difficult argument to make. And the government, rightly so, would not accept such an argument that it should run a film festival. A government department running a festival now is quite an alien concept,” he said
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