With cinemas starting to open across the region, Filmart Online offers buyers and sellers a platform to continue doing business in Asia and the rest of the world, as well as updates on the new business models transforming the industry.

Filmart Online logo

Source: HK Trade Development Council

Filmart Online logo

Due to its timing in the international film market calendar, strategically positioned in March between Berlin and Cannes, Filmart was one of the first events that was forced to postpone as the Covid-19 coronavirus swept through Asia then hit Europe and the Americas.

As Hong Kong had been so successful in containing the virus, hopes were high that the market could take place as a physical event in late August. But by June, it became clear that the strict border restrictions and quarantine requirements still in place across the region, meant that both the market and accompanying Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF) would need to take place virtually.

Filmart Online is now scheduled for August 26-29, with HAF running concurrently and on the same platform (August 26-28). At the time of writing, around 600 exhibitors from 36 countries and regions had signed up for the event, with more than 2,000 film and TV productions expected to be promoted or screened.

Faced with the bleak realities of the pandemic, Filmart organisers, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), say they felt it was important to “keep the momentum going in the industry”.

“The film industry has been so quiet for months, but audiences around the world are consuming more content than ever,” says Peggie Liu, HKTDC senior service promotion manager. “Trading is still taking place, but even before the pandemic, technology was transforming our business models, so people need to connect and get a sense of what’s going to happen.”

Liu adds that the move online is also an opportunity for the HKTDC, which organises dozens of trade shows across multiple industries, to explore adding virtual components to future events, which will hopefully continue to take place physically at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC).

“We need to gain more experience in doing things online, but still believe face-to-face networking is necessary, especially in the entertainment industry,” Liu says. “It’s not just about trading – people tell us they come to Filmart for the brainstorming, networking, creativity, meeting people over a coffee or glass of champagne. The physical elements are important, but we must be prepared for the unexpected.”

Filmart Online will enable exhibitors to showcase their content and services on a dedicated web page, as well as use a virtual screening platform, equipped with digital rights management (DRM) encryption and individual watermarks. Other features include seller/buyer video conferencing, webinars and live virtual events (see separate story for schedule) and analytics on content activity and preference.

Built and operated by US-based RightsTrade, the platform will also facilitate deal-making through RightsTrade’s ‘Deal Wizard’ tool, which enables sellers to list and edit their assets and negotiate and close licensing deals online. In an interesting move for the Chinese-speaking content industries, the platform will also offer user interfaces in traditional and simplified Chinese, in addition to English.

As during physical versions of Filmart, several major umbrella organisations are participating in the event – including European Film Promotion, the Independent Film & Television Alliance, Korean Film Council, Taiwan Creative Content Agency (TAICCA), Macao Government Tourism Office and several provincial government organisations from mainland China. Finland’s Creative Export Innovations will also be taking part for the first time.

EFP’s pavilion will host 40 European sales companies, while around 30 North American companies are expected to take part either through IFTA or independently. European titles on offer include German sales company Pluto Film’s All The Pretty Horses, which is in competition at this year’s Sarajevo Film Festival, and Bac Films’ The Man Who Sold His Skin, selected for the Orizzonti section of Venice.

Sellers agree with the HKTDC’s analysis that virtual markets are necessary, and can be an effective tool to keep deal-making active during pandemic times, but that the human interaction elements are sorely missed.

“It worked quite well for Cannes. Screenings were well attended and we had a lot of sales and acquisition meetings,” says Gabrielle Rozing, general manager of Fortissimo Films, which is selling Zhang Ming’s Hot Soup and TV series Horizon Tower at Filmart Online. “We do get things done and in some ways I find it very efficient, but being in the same spot or time zone with everyone is just priceless and cannot be replaced by online festivals.”

Heading into Filmart Online, many sales companies say they’re feeling optimistic about selling into Asia, with some markets such as South Korea as active as ever, although they don’t expect business to fully recover until the end of the year.

Gary Hamilton

Source: Arclight Films

Gary Hamilton

“We are certainly starting to see many Asian territories – including China – reopening theatres and showing a strong rebound,” says Gary Hamilton, chairman of Arclight Films, which will be launching live-action mecha sci-fi Heavens: The Boy and His Robot at Filmart Online. “The market is much more optimistic as we start leaving behind months of uncertainty. For the most part, moviegoers are not holding back on going to the theatres despite having to comply with the new health guidelines.”

The recent opening of China’s cinemas has been a huge relief for the mainland and Hong Kong film industries, which will be out in force at Filmart, although they’ll be offering their wares virtually, rather than through the elaborate booths they usually host at the HKCEC.

“We’ve had a good response so far, with mainly Asian buyers requesting meetings with us. It’s good to catch up with buyers on our line-up, since we’re pitching new films,” says Mia Sin, distribution manager at Universe Films, which is launching Oxide Pang’s Flashover (working title) at the market. “We’re happy to see the markets in Asia, especially China, are getting back to normal. Many big titles have been scheduled for release in the fourth quarter of 2020, which is encouraging, so we hope to see further recovery there, as well as in the rest of the world.”

Filmart Online will also host a large contingent of TV and streaming companies, which have been less impacted by the virus than film studios dependent on theatrical revenues. Companies selling content in this space include Japanese broadcasters Fuji Television Network, TV Asahi and NHK Enterprises, Chinese streamers iQiyi and Mango TV, Taiwan’s Public Television Service, GMA Worldwide from the Philippines and India’s Zee Entertainment Enterprises.

Many streamers and broadcasters are also signing up for Filmart Online as buyers, driven by the growing competition to source content and retain subscribers and advertisers during pandemic times. These changing dynamics should ensure that business at the Hong Kong virtual market remains brisk, despite the fact that we probably won’t be hearing the real-world clinking of champagne glasses any time soon.