U.S. Indies Get Grant to Boost H.K Profile


American independent film and television companies will for the first time in March have their own pavilion at the Hong Kong FILMART thanks in part by a U.S. government grant awarded Thursday at the American Film Market.

At a ceremony on AFM's first Hong Kong Day where Raymond Yip, assistant executive director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council and AFM president Jonathan Wolf highlighted FILMART's status as the "gateway" to China's booming entertainment market, Barbara Rawdon of the U.S. Department of Commerce awarded a $248,000 grant to the Independent Film & Television Alliance.

"At film markets around the world it's always expected to see Spanish, French and German pavilions," IFTA President Jean Prewitt said. "This grant will allow American independent companies to create a solid FILMART presence."

Additionally, Yip said that a new Pacific Bridge Initiative from the Hong Kong government would foster more U.S. business in support of President Barack Obama's national export initiative, which is meant to create more jobs through business overseas.

"In nine areas, including the entertainment and financial services sectors, our PBI will work closely with the U.S. Commercial Service to help increase U.S. participation in the FILMART in March," Yip said.

As co-productions from veteran Hong Kong film companies have paved the way into China's booming movie market, Prewitt of IFTA said the inaugural U.S. Pavilion at the 15th FILMART in March is part of a multi-year commitment to help independent U.S. companies in a "marketplace that's been amenable to taking U.S. products but is still very intimidating for many small companies."

Rawdon, from the International Trade Administration within the DOC, said the money, which is meant to be spread over three years, would help IFTA to set up a platform to "focus on the opportunities, not the problems."

In Dec. last year the World Trade Organization ruled in favor of a U.S. complaint against China, demanding that the country that recently became the world's No. 2 economy after the U.S. further open its markets to foreign participation in the distribution of copyrighted cultural content such as films and television.

Prewitt said IFTA has at least 10 member companies in Hong Kong, including such majors as the Emperor Motion Pictures and Media Asia. The more U.S. and Hong Kong companies engage in competitive activities with their counterparts in China, "the sooner all trade restrictions will drop."

China currently limits to 20 the number of imported films that are allowed to share in the country's box office gross, which reached $1.1 billion in the first nine months of this year. Much of that money was grossed from Hong Kong co-productions such as Bodyguards an Assasins and from Hollywood blockbusters, such as Avatar.

"The Motion Picture Assn. has different issues in China than our members do," IFTA's Prewitt said. One Chinese IFTA member, Huayi Brothers Media, producer of China's domestic box office record holder Aftershock is proof that the China's market might soon open to more independent participation, she said.

"When Huayi stood up within 24 hours of the WTO decision and said they wanted to apply for distributor status, this completely vindicated the merits of internal competition," Prewitt said.

Huayi and other Chinese companies, such as Poly Bona, Enlight Pictures and DMG are on the cusp of becoming major independent distributors alongside the de facto distribution duopoly of the China Film Group and the Huaxia Film Distribution Co.

The ITA grant to IFTA will help create an American Pavilion both at FILMART and another major international film market yet to be announced, IFTA said in a statement, adding that the pavilions would provide exhibit space and marketing and technical support to U.S. companies putting them on "equal footing with other national pavilions."

IFTA projects the pavilions will generate $112 million in export revenues over three years for small and medium-sized companies, creating 1,120 direct and 2,464 indirect American jobs.

IFTA has 150 members in 23 countries produce more than 400 independent films and countless hours of television programming each year and generate more than $4 billion in distribution revenues annually.