FilMart organizers see silver linings in clouds surrounding Hong Kong market

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Organizers of Hong Kong FilMart, normally Asia’s largest film and television rights marketplace, are showing courage despite their high-profile event being forced into an online-only format for the third consecutive time.

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

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But, while many Asian industry leaders have not been able to attend a festival or market in person for about two years now and eagerly await the first opportunity, these days they are also much more experienced in the management of virtual markets, videoconferencing and online screenings.

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

Along with the finished film market, the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF) will be held from March 14 to 16. It is now well established as a leading funding platform for film projects in Asia. This year, it pre-selected 28 film projects in development and 15 other projects in development.

Although the virtual FilMart saw a 10% reduction in US and European exhibitors, this loss is offset by an increase in the number of mainland Chinese exhibitors using FilMart for the first time. Logically, these two trends can have the effect of making the product mix on offer more Chinese, which reinforces the attractiveness of FilMart for any distributor or streamer who needs content from the mainland.

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

Many companies on the continent have relatively little experience of international rights sales markets and need TDC’s assistance. “We have to offer a little something extra to these companies. Business matchmaking services are particularly important, and we also help with advertising and other services,” says Liu.

“We know that a virtual market cannot be compared to an in-person market. All of our research shows that people want human interaction, not only to buy and sell, but also to invest, present intellectual property and understand market trends,” says Liu.

That’s why FilMart’s revamped lecture series, now streamlined and called EntertainmentPulse, focuses on evolving industry trends. These include the direction of streaming/OTT platforms, content localization, the future of documentaries, and the potential for the metaverse and non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

Speakers include: Jessica Kam-Engle, Content and Development Manager for The Walt Disney Company in Asia-Pacific, offering insight into how Disney Plus works with regional creators; Daniel Seah, CEO of Digital Domain, on the application of “virtual humans”; and Asher Rapkin, director of global commerce 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 the FilMart platform is adding functionality — built-in video conferencing and messaging features allow buyers to connect with potential partners around the world — and will be refreshed throughout the year. “A virtual market can last much longer than a physical market, and visitors can stay there much longer,” she says. However, there are limits.

Film screenings were an important component of physical FilMart events, but they are a lower priority for today’s market. “We offer online screenings [for buyers] but don’t really push them because of technology and possible security issues. Besides, people are already sharing links or using Cinando,” says Liu. “We also don’t intend to become a trading platform like RightsTrade or Vuulr. This is another activity, which requires high computer skills and e-commerce validity. Instead, we focus on exposure and marketing and make that goal last longer throughout the year.

As usual, FilMart will be the virtual showcase for major local studios – including 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 at an all-time low 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; reduction in funding for local productions; the fragility of a new generation of film 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. On the contrary, with cinemas still closed, production companies in Hong Kong are delaying their releases or delaying their productions. There is an indirect effect on production in Hong Kong.

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