Policy-makers, film commissioners and producers at this year’s Asian Film Policy Forum (Oct 6-7) discussed plans to launch an Asian cinema portal, possibly as an educational initiative to widen the audience for Asian films.

Still at the conceptual stage, the initiative aims to address the problem that many Asian arthouse and independent films do not receive theatrical distribution or have a life beyond the festival circuit.

Described as “cultural exchange” rather than as a commercial endeavour, the platform could nonetheless generate revenue for filmmakers. Speaking on a panel on Monday, NETPAC vice president Philip Cheah used the example of the NETPAC portal Asiapacificfilms.com, which has a partnership with Alexander Street Press, a content provider to the educational sector.

Asiapacificfilms.com has put more than 600 films online, which it sells to universities and other educational institutions, with revenues flowing back to the directors. “In academia, people are much more open and want to see more of everything. Directors have started earning real money and we now have filmmakers approaching us,” Cheah said.

Cheah added that a pan-Asian cinema portal could also help filmmakers circumvent censorship, which is generally more restrictive in Asia than in the West.

Thai producer Soros Sukhum, who recently co-founded Mosquito Films Distribution, said online channels are becoming more important for indie producers, particularly as sales to theatrical distributors are declining. “Since 2009, we’ve had to rely on festival screening fees. But online channels can help us promote our films and also sell DVDs.”

Sung Youlhong, professor at Korea’s Hongik University and former CJ E&M CIO, suggested the platform should partner with MCNs (multi channel networks) and OTT providers. “We need to create a common window for the next generation,” Sung said.

However, the panellists also acknowledged the problems that the portal could run into – the reaction of copyright owners who are exploiting the films commercially; the costs of subtitling and formatting films for online distribution; slow or non-existent internet in some parts of Asia; and deciding which kind of films to select and upload.

As for how to fund the project, Oh Seokgeun, AFCNet president and director of the Busan Film Commission, suggested the portal could try to access official development assistance (ODA) and other public funding programmes on a regional or international level. He also suggested that the portal could act as an incubator by screening short films and works-in-progress from new talent.