Questions surround H.K. funding


HONG KONG -- Just days after the establishment of the Hong Kong Film Development Council, a major voice has been raised concerning the HK$300 million ($38.4 million) that Financial Secretary Henry Tang earmarked for the Film Development Fund in his budget speech of Feb. 28.

The Lion Rock Institute, an organization established in 2004 with the aim of protecting Hong Kong's status as one of the freest economies in the world, addressed a Legislative Council panel on Information Technology and Broadcasting at a meeting Tuesday, arguing that any for-profit sector of the economy should not be subsidized by taxpayer money.

A document submitted by Lion Rock to the chairman of the panel on Information Technology and Broadcasting at the Legislative Council reads: "If taxpayers choose to support the industry, they should do it by paying to see the movies in the theater or buying DVDs. ... Being coerced into this through taxation is immoral, inefficient and ultimately harmful."

Andrew Shuen of Lion Rock added that he felt such a film fund endangered Hong Kong's creative filmmaking community by bypassing the natural market structure of supply-and-demand, instead creating one in which artists look to merely fulfill government criterion.

The Communications and Technology branch of the Commerce, Industry and Technology Bureau said at the meeting that the Hong Kong film industry, following the example of the U.K., France and South Korea, needs impetus in the form of government funding to help pull it out of its slump.

They pointed out that the lack of small- to medium-budget film productions in Hong Kong has stopped new talent from emerging, thereby stunting the growth of the industry.

At the same meeting, the Federation of Hong Kong Filmmakers proposed that small- to medium-budget productions targeted by the fund should have budgets of HK$1.2 million ($154,000) or below, and that the government's investment should not equal more than 50% of the total budget.

The Federation argued that a special committee needs to be established to determine the criteria for film submissions to the fund. They also advised that the post-production of any film benefiting from the fund be done entirely in Hong Kong.

During the early '90s, the industry produced more than 300 films a year on average, with a total boxoffice of HK$1.24 billion ($159 million). In 2006, the industry produced just 51 films with a total boxoffice of HK$282 million ($36.1 million).

The future of the Film Development Fund is unknown and the Hong Kong Film Development Council as well as the film industry itself must await the Finance Committee's approval of the HK$300 million commitment before they can begin administering the funds.