Pitches made, HAF ready to make picks

Asian film finance forum to award five prizes

HONG KONG -- "HAF is extraordinary and fabulous," said acclaimed Indian director Dev Benegal, a first-time participant in the Hong Kong Asian Film Financing Forum due to award five co-production prizes worth HK$595,000 ($76,280).

"There's such an international group here and we've been surprised by the interest in our project," said Bombay native and New York resident Benegal, whose producers are seeking $1.2 million to complete the $6 million budget for his HAF entry "Bombay Samurai."

The film, a modern noir in which a contract killer falls for a Bollywood diva only to discover she's his next target, follows quickly on the heels of Benegal's off-Bollywood film "Road, Movie," which just opened in India and recently was picked up by Robert De Niro's Tribeca Films.

The film, set to star indie actor Abhay Deol, is but one of 25 Asian films-in-the-works being pitched to potential partners at the annual event held in conjunction with the Hong Kong Filmart.

Jacob Wong, HAF director and curator for the Hong Kong International Film Festival (ongoing through April 6) said a broad range of experience distinguished this year's crop of directors.

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"The selected projects are really exciting," Wong said. "We have those like Sherad Sanchez who is well on his way to becoming a full-ledged filmmaker and veterans like Suzuki Seijun. When we sit down to do the arithmetic, there are going to be some tough decisions to make."

In a last-minute development, Sanchez -- whose project "Twins," about rural Filipina who refuses to accept the disappearance of her sister -- was not able to attend the event in Hong Kong for the first time because his own sister was in critical condition in the hospital. Producer Ronald Argulles was taking meetings at HAF.

The five awards, given in cash and value in-kind, are sponsored by HAF, the Wouter Barendrecht Film Foundation, the Hong Kong Film Development Fund, Technicolor Asia, Bangkok, and the Paris Cinema International Film Festival.

Participating financiers include, among others, Fox International Production, NHK, Huayi Bros. Pictures, ARP, Wild Bunch, West End Films, CJ Entertainment, CMC Entertainment, Avex Asia Limited, Emperor Motion Pictures, Fortissimo Films and Media Asia Group.

Past HAF participants include, among others, Jia Jiangke, Pang Ho-Cheung, Tsai Ming-liang, Kore-Eda Hirokazu, Park Chan-wook, and Pen-ek Ratanaruang.

Many of the completed projects have gone on to screen at the world's most prestigious film festivals, including Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Toronto, Locarno, Deauville and Pusan.

HAF 2009 saw 468 private meetings arranged during the three-day forum attended by 917 individuals, up 17% from 2008.