At last week’s Asian Film Policy Forum in Busan, policy-makers from across Asia discussed how they can create region-wide support structures for film.

Unlike Europe with its well-established MEDIA and Eurimages programmes, Asia does not have any regional support structures for the film industry. National film industries often collaborate with one another, but they are usually entrepreneurial in nature and don’t rely heavily on government organisations. While some, such as Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and China, have flourished, many others are at a very early stage of development.

At this year’s Asian Film Policy Form (Oct 10-13), organised by the Busan Film Commission (BFC), policy-makers from across Asia sat down together to discuss how they can increase regional cooperation.

This was examined from several angles. The BFC, which is also a founding member of the Asian Film Commissions Network (AFCNet), believes that a regional response will make it easier for international productions to shoot in the region.

Delegates also discussed how getting regional organisations, such as the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) involved in film, might help development across that particular region.

“Individual countries are not going to be able to carry this so it’s going to have to be a regional effort,” said international locations manager and AFCNet advisor William Bowling. “If a Hollywood studio has a picture and thinks of Asia, it won’t necessarily think of a country first – it will think of a region.”

For the first time, an ASEAN representative, director for cross-sectoral cooperation Larry Maramis, attended the forum. He explained to the assembled film commissioners and policy-makers how ASEAN operates and the seven-step process they need to follow to apply for funding.

The same panel also looked at the development potential of South-East Asia’s film industries which range from Indonesia – on course to produce 100 films this year – to Laos with just six features, some of which were produced with help from Thailand.

“The biggest obstacle for us now is the lack of manpower, limited budgets and the lack of equipment, because Laos is a small market with only 6.3 million people. In future we need to cooperate with our ASEAN partners,” said Bounchao Phichit of the Lao cinema department.

Aung Myo Myint, managing director of Myanmar’s Motion Picture Enterprise under the Ministry of Information, said his country welcomed cooperation on training and international production. Do Duy Anh, from the Vietnam Cinema Department, explained that Vietnam now has many private production companies and produces around 15 films a year, but relies on Thailand and China for post-production.

While Indonesia has a thriving film industry, director for film affairs Syamsul Lussa spoke of the need for more cinemas – the country has only 676 screens for a population of 245 million.

During a session on the role of film commissions, some of Asia’s more advanced film commissions described how they’ve become involved in funding and the development of their local film industries, in addition to the traditional role of attracting productions and locations support.

Wellington Fung said the Hong Kong Film Development Council is now involved in training programmes for technicians and martial artists, as well as film promotion and funding for small to medium-budget films. Inoue Toshihiko of Japan’s Sapporo Hokkaido Contents Strategy Organisation (SHOCS) explained how his organsiation is also involved in investment matching and connecting film shoots with local brands.

The well-funded BFC has its own sound stages and its budget for incentives, including funds for script development, is set to rise to $260,000 (KRW300m).

However, while some Asian film commissions have developed advanced services, what came out clearly at the end of the forum was the strong need for more basic programmes such as training and building a local audience for film. The consensus was that even developed film industries still need this, and it’s critical for those in the early stages of development. 

“It would be relatively simple to set up a training system throughout Asia with workshops in different countries,” said Bowling. “And not just train directors, but also grips, make-up and costume people. When we consider where we’re going to shoot, the first thing that comes up is cost, and then whether or not there’s a skilled crew base.”

Delegates at the forum also discussed financial incentives, but Bowling suggested that the region as a whole should not get too hung up on these, as some nations can’t afford them: “I don’t think Asian countries should get into that game because they can’t win it. Try to find other ways – look at low costs, look at training and building stages.”

At the end of the seminars, networking events and closed-door meetings, the delegates issued a joint statement pledging to work together, and with organisations such as ASEAN and AFCNet, to improve the production environment and promotion of film in Asia.

It may take some time for the respective ministries of each country to move past bureaucratic processes and interact with one another, not to mention engage with a large organisation like ASEAN. But the two-day forum felt like a step in the right direction.