Hong Kong Filmart: Industry Turns Spotlight on New Talent

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A raft of new initiatives debuted by regional veterans such as Yu Dong and Bill Kong look to support fresh filmmaking voices from Asia.

While Filmsrt has traditionally been about trading bankable films, this year’s event has also been marked by a number of new initiatives shaped to nurture industry newcomers for the future.

Launched in a lavish ceremony and press conference Tuesday, the First Feature Film Initiative aims at finding and training new blood for Hong Kong’s film industry. The scheme takes the form of grants for aspiring filmmakers to make their first feature, with a maximum of $645,000 (HK$5 million) given to the winner of the professional category and $258,000 (HK$2 million) each for the two winners in the category for participants still studying in local higher-education institutions.

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Unlike many first-feature-project competitions provided by festivals, such as Busan and Rotterdam, the initiative has overtly highlighted the commercial nature of the prospective entries, with the goal of the exercise being to bestow participants with practical knowledge about how to make and then market a film.

“The initiative aims to help promote the long-term development of the film industry,” said Jack So Chak-kwong, chairman of the Hong Kong Film Development Council, which runs the Hong Kong Film Development Fund.

The fund itself has already helped launch the careers of several directors, with money going into the directorial debuts of award-winning screenwriter Ivy Ho Pik-mun (Claustrophobia), Chris Chow (Strawberry Cliff) and the filmmaking team of Derek Tsang and Jimmy Wan (Lover’s Discourse).

The launch of this government-backed initiative follows the announcement of a Emperor-Star collaboration called Go Local!, which will see the two companies pledging to co-produce no fewer than 10 films. The first five will be overseen by Chapman To, the actor who has helped shepherd films by Heiward Mak (Ex).

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Another fund, The Chinese Film Development Award, backed by the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum and Fox International Productions, is now in its second year of existence.

Five finalists have been selected, with the directors invited to present their projects to an influential panel that includes Bona Film boss Yu Dong, Hong Kong director-producer Fruit Chan and Taiwanese agent-director Rachel Chen. The winner will be given $12,900 (HK$100,000) and a development contract with Fox, with the four finalists offered a first-look agreement.

Meanwhile, established auteurs in the region have also contributed to this drive in cultivating new directors. Jia Zhangke, for example, established the Wings Project three years ago in order to finance and produce output from younger filmmakers. Since then, four productions were completed: Damien Ounouri’s Fidai, Song Fang’s Memories Look at Me, Quan Ling’s Forgetting to Know You and Han Jie’s Mr. Tree, all of which are screening at the Hong Kong International Film Festival this year.

At Filmart, new projects such as A Complicated Story and Bends offer a blueprint for first-time directors on how to make their debuts.

The former is the first feature film directed by Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts graduate Kiwi Chow Kwun-wai and is presented by Johnnie To and Bill Kong. It marks the unprecedented alliance of To’s Milkyway Image and Kong’s Edko Films, Bends, the directorial debut of Flora Lau, is produced and distributed by Nansun Shi, the chairman of the Bona-owned Distribution Workshop.