Strike talk at Singapore media fest



SINGAPORE -- Burgeoning Asian involvement in international documentary co-productions and the opportunities presented by the U.S. writers strike were hot topics Monday as Singapore's monthlong media festival moved into its final week.

The day opened with the announcement of a $4 million, 20-hour documentary slate by Singapore's Upside Down Concepts and LIC Australia, unveiled during the opening session of the inaugural Asia Factual Forum.

The three-day forum, aimed at increasing Asia's profile in global documentary circles, is the first of four programs that will take place under the Media Development Authority of Singapore banner over the next week.

Tuesday will see the opening of the one-day Media Financing Forum, which this year includes participation by William Morris Independent co-chief Cassian Elwes; producer Edward Pressman, chairman of ContentFilm; and Ashok Amritraj, chairman and CEO of Hyde Park Entertainment.

Also scheduled for Tuesday is the opening of the third Asian First-Time Filmmakers' Festival, which runs through Dec. 4.

This year's lineup kicks off with the Mongolian feature "Khadak," about a young nomad who confronts his destiny to become a shaman and later leads a revolution.

About 500 entries -- double last year's submissions -- from 53 countries, including Australia and New Zealand, were received this year, organizers said.

"Asians have stopped borrowing from the West and have started telling their own stories set in their own environment about issues they wish to grapple with," festival director Sanjoy Roy said.

The annual regional TV market, the Asia Television Forum, opens Wednesday, and some distributors saying that the writers guild strike is prompting buyers to step up the hunt for non-U.S. programming, and high hopes that Asian content may be able to fill some of the gap.

Even without the writers strike, the focus on Asian content will be higher than it has ever been, say companies like Fremantle International Distribution.

Local celebrity chef co-production "Kylie Kwong: My China" heads FID's slate at the market this year, and one of the company's key goals is acquiring more content from Asia for international distribution FID Asia vp Ganesh Rajaram said.

Sony Pictures Television International also comes to the forum with its Asian Hollywood Studio strategy in full swing.

Along with such U.S. series as "Cashmere Mafia" and "Damages," SPTI's catalog includes Stephen Chow's next movie, "CJ7," and Sanjay Leela Bhansali's "Saawariya," said Ross Pollack, SPTI senior vp distribution in Asia.

Distributors from English-speaking markets such as the U.K. and Australia report increased interest from free-TV broadcasters, particularly those who air U.S. series close to their airdates in the States.

Granada International regional director for Asia James Ross said that while there were still many "what-ifs" surrounding the impact of the strike on Asian schedules, interest in U.K. content was up significantly in November.

While buyers were largely unwilling to speak publicly about their plans for dealing with strike-driven shortages, one programmer said that the content flow from the U.S. was being carefully monitored and that options were being explored to fill potential scheduling holes.