Hong Kong Film Festival: 5 Questions With Director Roger Garcia

2012-11 FEA FIlmart Roger Garcia H

All eyes may be on mainland China, but in Hong Kong -- where annual box office has grown to $177 million -- the director of the annual film festival is determined to stay competitive

In Hong Kong the director of the annual film festival, taking place March 21-April 5, is determined to stay competitive.

This story first appeared in the March 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

All eyes may be on mainland China, but in Hong Kong -- where annual box office has grown to $177 million -- the director of the annual film festival is determined to stay competitive

The Hollywood Reporter: Some say Hong Kong cinema is being marginalized because
of China's rising power. What do you think?

Roger Garcia: It's an ongoing debate. I wouldn't say I've got any answers on this. Everybody tells me that you make a film in China for Chinese audiences, and you make a film in Hong Kong for Hong Kong audiences -- because their tastes are different. But nobody can tell me what is the difference in those tastes because I don't really know it myself, and I'd love to.

THR: How can the Hong Kong International Film Festival compete in this new environment?

Garcia: We feel that Hong Kong is still the best gateway to China and that co-production is something where Hong Kong's expertise, cultural congruity and financial infrastructure can play an important role. So through our HAF [Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum], we encourage networking and co-production. We also think that the HKIFF has built a good reputation; our program is followed by many, including acquisitions executives and producers looking for Chinese titles and talent. We are pleased that for the first time this year, we have an agreement with Fox International for HAF. Five finalists will pitch their projects to a panel, which will choose one winner who will get both a cash award ($12,500) and a first-look deal with the studio.

THR: The HAF allows emerging and established filmmakers to pitch projects to financiers. What are the biggest challenges in maintaining the event?

Garcia: One of the biggest challenges is managing its growth, but the other is what direction we should be headed in. The cinema is changing. The line between films that are made for the theater and films that are distributed on the Internet is something that we need to understand better. One of the things I find very promising this year is that with the support of Youku.com, we've made four short films with well-known filmmakers such as Tsai Ming-liang [Walker] and Ann Hui [My Way]. We'll show those theatrically in the festival, and then those films will go online. In a way, the festival is like the shop window for a distribution platform that's actually online, in the virtual space.

THR: The Hong Kong public is becoming more concerned about how taxpayer money is spent. Does that affect government grants and sponsorships?

Garcia: Not really. The government recognizes our role in contributing to the Hong Kong cultural and economic life. The festival continues to position Hong Kong as the hub of Hong Kong and Chinese-language cinema. When you mention Hong Kong, the first things people say are something to do with the movies and something very specific -- like John Woo or Jackie Chan. It's something that we should never forget. The branding of Hong Kong is promoted around the world by its movies and the association with its movies.

THR: Are you satisfied with what you've accomplished since you came on board a year-and-a-half ago?

Garcia: I'm never really satisfied. I still believe in some of the objectives I've set out for myself. However, one of the things that I've become aware of is the need to reach out more to the community. We're a mass cultural event, not an elitist event. The festival is paid for by the people of Hong Kong, and we need to reach out to as many of the people in Hong Kong as we can