Moving to a pre-Cannes slot has proved successful for HongKong's FilMart as this year's market, which wrapped Thursday (March 24), was byfar the biggest and busiest yet.

Combining the market with Hong Kong's other film-relatedevents also gave it more of a buzz. FilMart organiser, the Hong Kong TradeDevelopment Council (TDC), reported that visitor numbers had increased by 15%to 2,600 and that overseas visitors were up by 41%.

Although few major deals were announced at the market, manysellers said they opened talks that they expected to conclude at Cannes. "Wedidn't close anything but had plenty of offers," said Golden Network chiefCarrie Wong.

Indeed, Asian sellers agreed that the market is shaping upto be an important showcase for Asian product in the run-up to Cannes. "HongKong seems to be becoming a pre-Cannes market, in the same way that Pusan isbecoming a pre-AFM market," said Mark Yoon, head of sales at Korea's MKPictures.

Meanwhile, the large delegations of companies from the UKand France made the market feel like more of an international event. The largebooths occupied by the UK Film Council and Unifrance were bustling right untilthe end of Thursday afternoon.

There were a few complaints however. Some buyers said theywould have liked to have seen a greater volume of product, particularly fromthe host market Hong Kong which is focusing on fewer but bigger-budget films.Many people agreed that the three-day market is too short and could build moremomentum if it ran for an additional one or two days.

Among the deals that were concluded at the market,Fortissimo Films sold Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Invisible Waves to the UK'sTartan Films, following a slew of other pre-sales in Berlin. And at thebeginning of the market, Arclight Films' genre division, Darclight, picked upworld rights excluding Asia to Wilson Yip's SPL.

The resurrected HAF projects and co-production market alsoappeared to be a big success with participants praising the quality ofprojects. Again no deals were announced but the filmmakers with projects alsoseemed satisfied with the results. "I met people who are not here to shop around butare really keen to work with us and build a strong relationship," said EkachaiUekrongtham who presented supernatural thriller The Coffin.

Several awards were handed out at the projects marketincluding the HAF Award of US$12,800 (HK$100,000) which went to Ann Hui's AtThe World's End. The Hubert Bals Fund Award of Euros 10,000 went to TheCoffin while the two Cinedigit Awards, of in-kind services worth US$12,800,went to Jiang Wen's Little Woman and Lu Chuan's Nanking, Nanking.

Focus Films split its US$15,000 award between two projects -The Circle, to be directed by Wong Ching Po, Lee Kung Lok and PatrickKung, and Ning Hao's Red Bicycle.

Among other market news, Hong Kong production servicescompany Salon Films announced that it has retained global law firm White &Case to develop a framework of standardised contracts for the Asian filmindustry. The move is aimed at attracting more US and European productions toAsia and also support the growth of the local production industry.

Patrick Frater and Silvia Wong contributed to this report.