Thursday, March 31, 2016

Guest post: Wrapping up Filmart 2016

Booths at Filmart. Photo by Keith Barclay.
Keith Barclay is editor of the New Zealand film industry publication Screenz. A sponsored journalist covering Filmart, he offers Wise Kwai's Thai Film Journal tailored coverage of Filmart, the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum and the Asian Film Awards.

Hong Kong's Filmart wrapped on March 17. With 800 exhibitors and 7,300 registered buyers, the event set a new attendance record on the occasion of its 20th edition. It's a long way from the 75 invited exhibitors who took part in the inaugural 1997 event. Filmart is Asia's largest entertainment market event by some distance. Depending how it's measured, it's one of the world's top three or top five.

Strongly supported over the years by Hong Kong's own production and distribution community, a solid core of Thai distributors has been doing business there for several years. There are also several distributors from elsewhere carrying Thai product as part of a broader offer.

The most prominent Thai distributors at this year's Filmart were Five Star and Mono, each carrying a catalog of the more commercial Thai fare – mostly horrors, comedies and romantic comedies. Mono presented a large amount of its TV product as part of its offer. Both stands were busy during the market.

Five Star had Achira Nokthet's Ghost Ship (มอญซ่อนผี, Mon Son Phee) and Surussavadi Chuarchart's F.Hilaire (ฟ.ฮีแลร์), both released in Thai cinemas last year. Also in Five Star's catalogue, although a little older, was Issara Nadee's 2012 feature 407 Dark Flight. Thailand's first 3D horror feature, it has other Hong Kong connections having been shot by another of Filmart's regular exhibitors, Percy Fung's Hong Kong-based 3D Magic.

Representing the Thai government, the Thailand Film Office was one of a number of film offices from the region looking to attract business, productions looking to shoot in Asian locations or use services in the region. This year, the Thai team had a number of bites at the cherry with two umbrella organisations specializing in film attraction also exhibiting. AFCNet, the Asian organisation formed out of the worldwide International Association of Film Commissioners (AFCI) had a stand, as did Film Asean which, as it says on the box, represents the interests of the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Film Asean arrived in Hong Kong having made a good splash at its launch at the Berlinale's European Film Market in February.

The organization has been in development for four years, and has set both outward and inward-facing goals. In Southeast Asia, Film Asean will offer services including a touring mini-festival to introduce films from other countries in the region to regional audiences. For industry members, it will also support training and upskilling initiatives to help develop each country's own production capability and to better service the (usually more lucrative) inbound productions.

In 2013 Thailand introduced its own initiative to increase awareness of the country's potential and attract more inbound production. In the face of improving incentive schemes offered by other countries' governments, the Thailand International Film Destination Festival focused on promoting international titles shot in Thailand. Over the years, many of those titles have used Thailand to double for another part of Asia – most frequently Vietnam for a spate of Hollywood war films from Casualties of War to The Deer Hunter.

More recent high-profile titles such as The Hangover and Xu Zheng's Lost in Thailand might help drive awareness of what Thailand has to offer but, as neighbor Malaysia has discovered at the Pinewood Iskandar studios, it's not all about the blockbusters. Often the longer-running, lower-profile international titles – especially TV shows – keep people working week in and week out and create better opportunities for developing crew members' skills.

As well as distributors selling product at Filmart, production service companies also promote their services. Thai post-production and visual-effects specialists Yggdrazil and Kantana were both present. While Yggdrazil is probably better known internationally for its work in advertising, Kantana has been well-known in Hong Kong for several years, not least for its work on Wong Kar-Wai's Cannes-premiered 2046.

Other Thai post houses also present in Hong Kong were G2D (the former Technicolor facility in Bangkok) and White Light, which presented prizes at the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum, which ran alongside Filmart. Sway director Rooth Tang's March April May was among the projects selected for this year's HAF.

Both events form part of the umbrella Hong Kong Entertainment Expo, which draws to a close this weekend with the presentation of the Hong Kong Film Awards and the end of the Hong Kong International Film Festival.

Thai titles playing in this year's HKIFF were Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Cemetery of Splendour, well-travelled since its Cannes premiere 10 months ago, and The Island Funeral by Pimpaka Towira, which won the Best Asian Future Film Award at last year's Tokyo International Film Festival.

Both directors' previous features, Apichatpong's Palme d'Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and Pimpaka's One Night Husband respectively, also played in past editions of the Hong Kong fest.

Filmart (14 – 17 March) ran as part of the Hong Kong Entertainment Expo, along with film financing forum/project market HAF (14 – 16 March), and the Hong Kong International Film Festival (21 March – 4 April).

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