FilMart Organizers See Silver Linings Within the Clouds Surrounding Hong Kong Market

Organizers of Hong Kong FilMart, normally Asia’s biggest film and TV rights market, are putting on a brave face despite their prestige event being forced into an online-only format for the third time in a row.

The city’s borders are closed to travelers from several key countries and its onerous quarantine on-arrival conditions show no sign of being lifted during the current fifth wave of COVID-19 infections.

But, while many Asian industry executives have been unable to attend an in-person festival or market for some two years now, and are keenly awaiting the first opportunity, these days they are also vastly more experienced at dealing with virtual markets, video conferencing and online screenings.

The number of companies participating as exhibitors at FilMart 2022 is set to reach 750, compared with 680 last year. Based on advanced registrations, organizers say they expect a solid 8,000 participants during the four-day market (March 14-17, 2022).

Alongside the market for finished films is the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF), which will be held from 14 to 16 March. It is now well-established as a leading financing platform for film projects in Asia. This year it has shortlisted 28 in-development movie projects and a further 15 works-in-progress projects.

Though the virtual FilMart has witnessed a 10% reduction of U.S. and European exhibitors, that loss is outweighed by increased numbers of mainland Chinese exhibitors using FilMart for the first time. Logically, those two trends may have the effect of making the mix of product on offer more Chinese, something which strengthens the attraction of FilMart for any distributor or streamer which needs content from the mainland.

“Among the reasons for the increase is that we worked hard to reach out to mainland provincial governments and companies,” says Peggie Liu, associate director, service promotion, at the Hong Kong Trade Development Council.

Many mainland companies have relatively little experience of international rights sales markets and need the TDC’s hand-holding. “We have to offer a little extra for these companies. Business matching services are especially important, and we also help with publicity and other services,” says Liu.

“We know that a virtual market cannot compare to an in-person one. All our research show that people want the human interaction, not just for buying and selling, but for investment, IP pitching and understanding market trends,” says Liu.

That’s why FilMart’s revamped conference series, now streamlined and branded as EntertainmentPulse, is focused on industry-changing trends. These include the direction of streaming/OTT platforms, content localization, the future of documentaries, and the potential of the metaverse and non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

Speakers include: Jessica Kam-Engle, head of content and development for the Walt Disney Company in Asia Pacific, offering an insight into how Disney Plus is collaborating with regional creators; Daniel Seah, CEO of Digital Domain, on the application of “virtual humans”; and Asher Rapkin, director of global business marketing for Facebook and emerging platforms at Meta; and Melody Hildebrandt, chief information security officer at Fox and president of Blockchain Creative Labs (BCL).

Liu says that the FilMart platform is adding functionality – built-in video conferencing and messaging functions allow buyers to establish connections with potential partners around the globe – and will be refreshed through the year. “A virtual market can last much longer than a physical one and visitors can stay on it for much more time,” she says. There are limits, however.

Film screenings were a significant component of the physical FilMart events, but they are a lower priority for the current market. “We do offer online screenings [for buyers] but are not really pushing them because of technology and possible security issues. Besides people already share links or use Cinando,” says Liu. “Nor do we intend to become a transactional platform like RightsTrade or Vuulr. That’s another business, one that requires high IT skills and e-commerce validity. Rather, we are focusing on exhibition and marketing and making that focus last longer through the year.”

As usual, FilMart will be the virtual shop windows for major local studios – among them Edko Films, Emperor Motion Pictures, Entertaining Power Company, Golden Network, Golden Scene Company, Golden Sun Films Distribution, Mandarin Motion Pictures, Media Asia Distribution, Mega-Vision Project Workshop, Mei Ah Entertainment Group, One Cool Film Production, Sil-Metropole Organisation, Universe Films Distribution Company, TVBI and PCCW – but the market is taking place at a low ebb for Hong Kong’s once mighty film industry.

Reasons for this may include: the gravitational pull of the mainland industry for many established Hong Kong filmmakers; reduced funding for local productions; the fragility of a new generation of film-making talent; the introduction of censorship laws that include national security concerns for the first time; and, the city’s tough zero-COVID measures.

Liu shares some of these concerns. “The border is not the problem. People can go online these days. Rather, with cinemas still closed Hong Kong production companies are holding back their releases or delaying productions. There is an indirect effect on Hong Kong production.”

Source: Read Full Article