Filmart Wraps Edition That Was Busier, China-Focused & Light On Deals

This year’s Filmart was definitely bigger and busier than last year, which was the first physical edition following the reopening of Hong Kong and mainland China’s borders after the pandemic. According to Filmart organizers, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), more than 750 exhibitors and 7,500 visitors attended this year’s Filmart, compared to around 700 exhibitors and 7,300 visitors in 2023.
 
But despite frenetic meeting activity, the market did little to dispel fears that international sales business in the region, already in decline before the pandemic, is not yet recovering.
 
International sales agents under the IFTA and European Film Promotion (EFP) umbrellas had packed meeting schedules. “It’s been good. Much busier than last year, which was right after lockdown in China and Hong Kong. And it’s a good time to connect with Chinese and Asian colleagues who rarely travel,” said Pinnacle Peak Pictures’ Ron Gell.  
 
Premiere Entertainment Group’s Devin Carter said: “We’re here to make connections and say hello to our Asian and Chinese contacts who don’t tend to reach the bigger markets like Cannes and Berlin. It’s still worth it for that. Lots of meetings. “ 
 
Benjamin Colle, managing director of Germany’s Pluto Film, said that while Asia is a tough market for European drama and arthouse titles, it was still worth making the trip to Hong Kong: “Following meetings here, we will ideally meet with the buyers again in Cannes after they’ve watched screeners. It’s always beneficial to meet people face to face.”
 
He added that Asian buyers are mostly looking for horror, action and other genre titles, but there are exceptions: “A few years ago we had a Greek film, Tailor [by Sonia Liza Kenterman], that went really well in Japan. It can work if you find a distributor that loves the film and really engages with it.”
 
But while sellers reported that buyers from all over Asia, including mainland China, attended the market, very few sales deals were announced.
 
Filmart has traditionally acted as a bridging market between the European Film Market (EFM) in Berlin and Cannes film festival’s Marche; a place where sellers have a chance to spend more time with Asian buyers, rather than a time of furious deal activity.
 
But the costs of attending international markets have risen since the pandemic. Whether international sales agents will continue to attend events like Filmart in the future likely depends on how much support they get from trade and government organizations in their home countries to cover the costs of booths, flights and hotels.
 
This year’s show was physically bigger than last year – with booths spread over a vast floor space in the main hall of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. However, it felt less international than pre-pandemic editions of the market, with around half the booths taken up by mainland Chinese or Hong Kong companies.
 
The mainland China influence was also felt on the first day of the market when Chinese tech and entertainment giant Alibaba held an event to announce it was committing $640M (HK$5BN) to “revitalize” the Hong Kong film industry. As part of this arrangement, Alibaba-owned streaming platform Youku and film arm Alibaba Pictures are injecting investment into the film and TV slates of several major Hong Kong production companies including Media Asia, Emperor Motion Pictures, Edko Films, One Cool Group, Mandarin Motion Pictures and Universe Entertainment.
 
In a follow-up announcement, specifying a strategic partnership between Alibaba and Media Asia, the alliance between the two companies was described as “endorsing the economic and cultural prosperity of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area”.
 
That fits nicely with Beijing’s policy of integrating Hong Kong economically and culturally into the huge urban conurbation in mainland China that stretches along the Pearl River Delta. It also raises questions about the ability of Hong Kong’s creative industries to retain a cultural identity that is distinct from mainland China in the future.
 
The fact that international press was not invited to or allowed to enter the Alibaba event, which took place on the first day of an international content market, is also a sign of how much Hong Kong has recently changed.
 
Meanwhile, Hong Kong Film Development Council (HKFDC), which sits under the Hong Kong government’s Create Hong Kong banner, is forging ahead with plans to reinvigorate the Hong Kong film industry through a series of grants and other funding programmes. A two-session panel on the second day of the market explored a Hong Kong-Europe-Asia co-production funding scheme that is offering grants of up to $1.15M (HK$9M) to feature film projects that combine Hong Kong and other Asian and/or European talent. (See Deadline’s full report here).
 
HKIFF Industry, which is organized by Hong Kong International Film Festival and supported by Create Hong Kong, held the first edition of the expanded HKIFF Industry Project Market, which presented 47 projects and hosted more than 1,150 business meetings.
 
Cash and in-kind prizes worth over US$223,000 were handed out at the project market’s awards ceremony on Wednesday night, with the big winners including animated features The Excreman – On The Road, from Hong Kong animator Brian Tse, and Heirloom, from India’s Upamanyu Bhattacharyya (full report here).
 
Zac Ntim contributed to this report
 

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