Hong Kong's FilMart (23-25June) got off to a brisk start yesterday with organisers claiming a rise invisitor numbers matched by local industry spirits similarly on the up.

At an opening ceremony attended by Asian superstar Tony Leung, FilMart'sexecutive director Fred Lam said that there was a 10% rise in visitor numbers,with registered attendees hitting 2,500. He added that 325 companies had signedup as exhibitors, a 21% increase on 2003.

The territory's sales and production companies are cautiously talking upprospects for a rise in film production in the current year. "Last year HongKong produced about 100 films, we seem on course to exceed that," said NansunShi, the highly respected head of production house Film Workshop and aconsultant to Mandarin Film and multiple industry associations.

Dr Phillip Wong, another FilMart board member, said that Hong Kong issuccessfully building its role as a go-between between East and West and thatthe current year could see over 100 co-productions involving Hong Kong andmainland China.

There need be little discrepancy between Wong and Shu's figures as scarcely alocal film today is made without some kind of Chinese participation. Producerstoday see China as a source for finance, facilities, talent and, depending onthe nature of the deal, distribution and receipts. Indeed, Chinese exhibitorsfrom film and TV sectors were out in force.

Underlying FilMart's aspiration to become a pan-Asian market was the growingpresence of Korean sellers. Second only to the local sellers, five Koreancompanies - CJ Entertainment, Cinema Service, Cineclick Asia, Mirovision andfirst-timer Showbox - are all screening their titles at the Convention andExhibition Centre.

There were also a couple of early deals pointing to the continuiation of intra-Asian trade. Hong Kong production company DCDC announced that it had licensed Thai, Vietnamese and Indonesian rights on 3D animated film Dragonblade to Thailand's Kantana Distribution Company. New seller, Vietnam Media sold its local hit Notch Dancer, which grossed over $1m in its home territory, to Multi Media for Singapore.

But Shu and other wise heads refused to give in to over-optimism about thesignificance of FilMart's growing visitor's book. The event's position after abusy Cannes, unaffected by the SARS disruption of last year, means few areforecasting large volumes of deals this time. Most are instead looking forwardto March next year, when FilMart will benefit from being held in parallel withthe Hong Kong International Film Festival, the HK Film Awards (27 March) andfrom the revival of the HAF project market, which matches new projects withproducers and financiers. The 2005 event (22-24 March 2005) is expected tobenefit too from the AFM's shift to the autumn and FilMart's new position priorto Cannes.