Hong Kong Filmart had a busy year in terms of networking and big launches, with some deals closed; but some Asian sellers bemoaned the lack of Western buyers attending.

As in previous years, the Hong Kong International Film & TV Market (Filmart) was an intense four days of meetings and networking – an event during which to launch product and commence sales talks rather than close deals.

“It continues to be a great place for networking and meeting new players in the region,” said Fortissimo Films chairman Michael J. Werner. “In terms of the transactional nature of the business here, we need to see if the deals we’ve been talking about can be concluded in coming weeks or at Cannes.”

The market also continues to be a platform for Hong Kong and mainland Chinese companies to launch big-budget Chinese-language productions. Several Hong Kong and a few mainland sellers set up large, elaborate booths on the trade show floor – reflecting the growing confidence of the pan-Chinese market.

“It’s been really busy – there are lots of buyers from Korea, Japan, India and South-East Asia,” said Dominic Yip, general manager, distribution, at Filmko which is selling $30m 3D fantasy The Monkey King. “There aren’t many Europeans here but we’re going to see them in Cannes anyway.”

Privately however, some Asian sellers grumbled about the lack of US and European buyers at the market. “I’d like to see more Western companies here – I don’t need a market in Hong Kong to reach Asian buyers,” said one Asian sales agent who prefers not to be named.

Others said they hoped the market would continue to grow, so they can bypass some of the US and European film market events in future. “I hope this market will become as big as Cannes because at this moment the international film business is still very Europe-oriented,” said Kiyo Joo of Japanese sales company Gold View. “If the market grows we won’t have to travel to Europe so often, which makes sense for people like me who are selling Asian films.”

While US buyers were scarce, the number of US sales companies increased due to the launch of an American Pavilion, organised by the Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA), which housed around 20 companies. The US sellers said they were happy with the volume of foot traffic and chance to meet new distributors.

“The traffic and number of Asian buyers are up and there are also buyers from Japan here, which is nice to see,” said Epic Pictures CEO Patrick Ewald. “Overall the market feels much stronger and people are looking to buy, which gives me hope for the future of the business in Asia.”

Ironically however, the market also coincided with China’s deafening silence in response to the WTO ruling that it should open its distribution market. China had a deadline of March 19 to comply with the ruling that it should allow more than two state-owned companies to distribute foreign product.

However, the deadline came and went with no reaction from Chinese authorities. “China made a commitment to comply with the WTO decision by March 19. We are disappointed China did not fulfill that commitment,” said MPA executive vice president Greg Frazier in a statement.

“We understand, however, that the Chinese authorities are working to comply with the WTO’s ruling and that the US government is actively engaged with the Chinese government to ensure that China meets its commitment.”

Meanwhile, European sellers were slightly less visible at Filmart than in previous years – perhaps due to the lack of the UK Film Council pavilion – although Unifrance, European Film Promotion and Film Export UK all hosted umbrella stands. Trade association Film Export UK had managed to put together a small delegation in a limited period of time.

“Our people seem happy – they’ve had a lot of meetings,” said Film Export UK CEO Charlie Bloye. “The point of coming here is that you see people who you never see at any other market. They’ve been meeting a lot of companies from mainland China.”

But due to the growing strength of local product in Asia, European companies are finding it harder than ever to sell into the region. Peter Lin of Taipei-based distributor OMC explained the difficulties in his own territory: “The price of European films has been dropping, but we feel it has become more difficult than before for us to market European films in Taiwan,” he said.

“Movie-goers have become more interested in Chinese-language films, whether it’s made by Taiwan, Hong Kong, or even mainland China. In this trip we are not only interested in buying titles but also very keen to invest in Chinese-language films.” 

Although most deals are usually concluded after the relatively short four-day market, some business was announced here. Korea’s Finecut sold two films to Japan – creature feature Chaw to King Records and romantic drama Cyrano Agency to Fine Films.

Another Korean seller, Sidus FNH, announced a raft of deals on its slate including the sale of period action thriller The Showdown to FIP for French-speaking Europe. In addition, Hong Kong’s Media Asia sold romantic drama A Beautiful Life to China Lion for North America, Australia and New Zealand.

The opening ceremony of the market, and the Asian Film Awards (AFAs) which took place on the same night (March 21), were slightly muted due to the recent earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan which kept some participants away.

However, Filmart reported that only two out of 43 Japanese sellers cancelled their trips. The AFAs included a tribute to Japan in which the China All-Artists Union presented a letter of condolence to a representative of the Japanese film industry. In addition AFA’s official sponsor Moét & Chandon donated HK$180,000 ($23,070) to Japan disaster relief.

Jean Noh and Sen-lun Yu contributed to this report.