Hong Kong Filmart (March 21-24) is growing in importance as more international buyers and producers head to the event to conduct face-to-face business with the Asian film industry.

“We believe anyone who wants to sell to Asia has to come to Asia,” says Raymond Yip, assistant executive director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), the organiser of the Hong Kong International Film & TV Market (Filmart) which runs from March 21-24.

It is not easy to sell into Asia. Its largest box-office territory, Japan, has scaled back on acquisitions and China, the world’s fifth biggest market, is restricted by import quotas. But the region is emerging as a source of capital and, for some sellers, the challenging sales environment only increases the need to travel to Hong Kong. They have to work hard to sell Western titles into the region. “Everyone used to go to the West but [Asia is] becoming a buyers’ market [for Western product],” says Yip. “The emergence of China is another factor that attracts visitors [to Filmart].”

The market, which is celebrating its 15th edition this year, has grown steadily since 2005 when it switched to a pre-Cannes slot and became an anchor event within Entertainment Expo Hong Kong. It has also taken full advantage of growth in the mainland China market, as well as providing a platform for executives from Japan, Korea and South-East Asia to do business.

It remains a predominantly Asian event — around 50% of the visitors are from Hong Kong, 34% from the rest of Asia and 16% from outside the region. But US and European participation is starting to increase now the global sales business is showing signs of recovery.

One element which should boost Western participation this year is a US pavilion organised by the Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA), which was recently granted $248,000 from the US Department of Commerce to boost exports of US films. More than 20 US sales companies will attend under the IFTA umbrella including Lionsgate, Lakeshore, Myriad Pictures and Cinema Management Group (CMG).

Also new is a pan-European pavilion which is being organised by European Film Promotion (EFP). By late February, more than a dozen sales companies had signed up for the EFP umbrella, including Germany’s Beta Film and The Match Factory, Spain’s Latido Films, and Italy’s Intramovies, Rai Trade and Fandango. Unifrance will have a separate presence at the market as usual and the UK will be represented by UK Film Export International.

On the Asian front, Yip says the Korean pavilion will be 50% bigger this year, as digital contents body KOCCA is joining forces with the Korean Film Council (KOFIC), while the Japan pavilion will be 20% bigger. The market will also feature a country pavilion from Cambodia for the first time.

Co-production platforms

Filmart strives to be more than a trading platform — many participants come looking for financing or co-production partners. Access points for this include the Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF), which has grown to become one of the region’s premier co-production markets.

In addition to its usual activities, HAF has teamed up this year with Ateliers du Cinema Européen (ACE) and consultancy Sinapses Asia, who are organising a Sino-European projects workshop, Co-production Lab Hong Kong. A total of 16 projects — six from Europe and 10 from Chinese-speaking countries — have been selected to participate in the four-day event.

“The idea is to develop co-operation between Europe and China,” says Sinapses Asia’s Pierre-Yves Lochon. “The projects feature three kinds of collaboration — stories which span both Europe and China, or casting or financing between the two.

“We didn’t want to focus only on financing because at this stage there are not enough projects which have money from both sides.”

In addition to project meetings, the lab will feature case studies of successful co-productions; individual consultation sessions with a team of around 10 industry experts; and seminars on aspects such as distribution, finance and casting. Backed by the European Union’s MEDIA International programme, the event is also co-organised by HAF organisers, the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society (HKIFFS), Filmart and the Taipei Film Commission.

‘Everyone used to go to the West but Asia is becoming a buyers’ market. China is also attracting visitors to Hong Kong’

Raymond Yip, HKTDC

HKIFFS also organises the Hong Kong festival and the Asian Film Awards (AFAs) which this year has a jury led by Hong Kong film-maker Yonfan. Japanese drama Confessions and Jiang Wen’s satirical action adventure Let The Bullets Fly top the nominations list, with six apiece, and a special award will be presented to Hong Kong and Amsterdam-based Fortissimo Films — which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year — for the company’s long-time promotion of Asian cinema.

The AFAs, which take place on March 21, are just one of several awards ceremonies to be held during this year’s Expo. On the second night of Filmart, the market will host the first ever Asia Rainbow TV Awards (March 22), celebrating television production across the region. Organised by the Hong Kong Televisioners Association (HKTVA), the ceremony looks set to draw a host of Asian TV idols, who have huge followings across the region and often end up working in film.

Towards the end of Expo, films such as Reign Of Assassins, Detective Dee And The Mystery Of The Phantom Flame and Gallants will battle it out at the Hong Kong Film Awards (April 17), while independent film will be recognised at the Hong Kong Independent Short Film and Video Awards (March 16-20) and the music industry via the Hong Kong Top Sales Music Award (March 25).

Further events under the Expo umbrella include a special exhibition, Pixar: 25 Years of Animation, which will take place at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum (March 17-June 27) and the Digital Visual Effects Summit to be held during Filmart. Speakers at the summit will include Hong Kong director Oxide Pang, who has recently made two 3D features — The Child’s Eye and The Sleep Walker.

Expo events — Hong Kong 2011

■ Hong Kong Filmart (March 21-24)

■ Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum (March 21-23)

■ Hong Kong International Film Festival (March 20-April 5)

■ Asian Film Awards (March 21)

■ Hong Kong Film Awards (April 17)

■ Hong Kong Independent Short Film & Video Awards (March 16-20)

■ Hong Kong Asian Pop Music Festival (March 23)

■ IFPI Hong Kong Top Sales Music Award (March 25)

■ Digital Visual Effects Summit (March 21-24)

■ Pixar: 25 Years of Animation (March 17-June 27)