The oldest and arguably most established film market in Asia, Filmart (March 17-20) has emerged as one of the leading events on the global film industry's calendar.

Launched by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (TDC) back in 1997, the market is still dominated by Asian product and those who want to sell to Asia. However, specialisation is probably not such a bad idea when so many events are competing for the industry's time, wallets and air miles.

Initially focused on film and TV content, the market has since grown to encompass animation, digital entertainment and games, along with the locations and production facilities side of the business.

In 2005, the TDC made the smart move of combining the market with Hong Kong's other film-related events, including the Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF) and the Hong Kong International Film Festival (Hkiff), under the Entertainment Expo (EE) banner. The repositioning paid off with rapid growth in both exhibitor and visitor numbers. This year around 480 exhibitors from 30 countries and regions are expected to attend, up 7% from last year, along with around 4,200 buyers and other visitors.

Innovations this year include screenings of TV programming to complement the market's film screenings, and an awards ceremony for short films which have been professionally produced for mobile phones. The market will also host pavilions from Israel and Indonesia for the first time.

Another selling point of the 12-year-old event is its proximity to the mainland China market. This year's mainland delegation, organised by China Film Promotion International and broadcaster Cctv, has doubled in size to around 80 companies. These include many of the new private producer-investors emerging on the mainland such as Huayi Brothers, Chengtian Entertainment, JA Media and the Time Antaeus Media Group.

'The (mainland) Chinese film and TV industry is booming and many producers are using Hong Kong as a platform to promote their product,' says TDC assistant executive director Benjamin Chau.

Not surprisingly given its emphasis on Asian product, all the major buyers of Asian films and TV programming regularly attend the market. This year, expected distributors include the UK's Tartan Films; France's Wild Bunch, Metropolitan Filmexport and StudioCanal; along with Magnolia Pictures and Paramount Vantage from the US.

The TDC has also made an effort to court non-Asian sales companies, many of whom appear to regard the market as complementary to Berlin's European Film Market (EFM) rather than a competing event. This year, many Asian buyers did not make the trip to the EFM, as it clashed with Lunar New Year, which increases the relevance of the Hong Kong event.

'Filmart is an important stop for us to get face time with the Asian buyers, especially those that were not in Berlin because of the Chinese New Year,' says Mandate International president Helen Lee Kim. 'Although it's not our full sales and marketing team, the company has had a presence attending for the last several years and we've certainly witnessed the growth and relevance of the market.'

Among European sales companies, most are still choosing to exhibit under the umbrella of national film organisations such as the UK Film Council, UniFrance, Spanish producers' association Fapae and German Films Service & Marketing. European sellers report the market is worth the trip to build relationships, explore new markets and source new projects, but as it does not generate a huge amount of business, it only makes sense to exhibit under country umbrellas.

The reverse is also true for Asian sellers who are attending the EFM in increasing numbers, but find it only makes sense with support from organisations such as UniJapan and the Korean Film Council (Kofic).

'I go to both events for different reasons,' says Tanja Meissner of Paris-based Memento Films. 'I'm mainly interested in the projects at Filmart/HAF, whereas I focus on sales in Berlin.'

In terms of timing and location, Filmart is ideally positioned for Asian sales companies. 'It's a short market and cheap for Asians to travel there, so expense-wise it's not a burden to stop by Hong Kong,' says Juyoung Park, sales and acquisitions chief at Korea's Prime Entertainment. 'Particularly this year, many of the Asian buyers skipped EFM to be in Hong Kong, so it's more important for us to be there and catch up with them.'

Despite EFM's head-on collision with Chinese New Year, many Asian buyers did try to attend both markets this year, if only for a few days. 'Many Korean buyers were in Berlin this year, since foreign films are doing quite well here at the moment,' observes Eugene Song, international business manager at Korean distributor Sponge. 'But Filmart is well organised for Asian product, which is why many Korean and Japanese distributors find it worth attending.'

Although it is well established, Filmart faces rising competition from other Asian film and TV markets such as the Pusan International Film Festival's Asian Film Market (AFM), Tokyo's Tiffcom and Shanghai's nascent Siff Mart. Among the three events, the two-year-old Pusan market probably has the highest profile internationally and its October timing gives it sufficient space from Filmart to warrant a second trip to Asia.

The Tokyo International Film Festival's four-year-old Tiffcom, which takes place a few weeks after Pusan, is more focused on Japanese content. But this could be an event to watch as the territory's production industry is booming and the Tiffcom organisers intend to make a more aggressive international push. It certainly does not hurt that the Tokyo film festival is now chaired by the popular Gaga Communications CEO Tom Yoda.

The Shanghai market, which launched last year as part of the Shanghai International Film Festival, has yet to evolve as a major trading platform, but will no doubt continue to attract interest due to its location in mainland China's financial capital.

In terms of the range of events, seminars and networking functions at each market, only Pusan's AFM provides any serious competition to Filmart.

This year, the Hong Kong event has a packed schedule. The second annual Asian Film Awards, which are organised by the Hkiff and take place on the market's opening night, provide some glamour and an insight into the many star systems across the region.

Among numerous industry screenings, Filmart will host the premieres of Japanese feature Chesuto! and the latest work by French director Emmanuel Mouret, Shall We Kiss' The seminar programme includes discussions on Asian co-productions, digital distribution and film merchandising.