Market In Focus: HKIFF Industry, CAA China Talk Building An Ecosystem For Emerging Filmmakers

Taking place alongside Filmart, the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF) is one of Asia’s oldest and most established project markets, helping a string of award-winning films to get made.

Recent HAF successes include Mongolian drama If Only I Could Hibernate, which was selected for last year’s Cannes Un Certain Regard, and Huang Ji and Ryuji Otsuka’s Stonewalling, which won best film at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards and was sold to KimStim for North America.

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However, HAF is now just one component in an expanding range of activities organised by HKIFF Industry, the industry platform of Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF). This year, the festival has partnered with CAA China to launch the HKIFF Industry-CAA China Genre Initiative (HCG), which is presenting six selected projects to an industry-wide audience during HAF.

HKIFF Industry director Jacob Wong explains that a genre initiative is a logical next step for a projects market in Asia, where funding structures are much more commercially driven than in Europe. While HAF has had successes, and draws a high level of participation from European producers and festivals, there are sectors of the Asian industry that don’t engage.

“Project markets are an invention of the European industry, which can focus more on cinema over commerce as they have a robust public funding system,” Wong says. “But when transplanted to this part of the world, subsidy cinema doesn’t really exist.”

CAA China’s CEO Mary Gu adds that HCG is designed to support emerging filmmakers, not just in the mainland China market, but also overseas. “HKIFF has long been a source of discovery and with HCG, our shared objective is to provide the next generation of filmmakers in the region with a network of support to help them launch their careers, both locally and in the international marketplace,” she explains.

The six projects selected for the inaugural edition include two projects in the action drama or thriller genre (Wang Hao’s Countdown To The End and Yan Bing’s Hyperinflation), two romantic comedies (Rowena Loh’s Reunion Diaries and Du Junlin’s Scriptures And Poetry) and two comedy dramas (Gao Linyang’s Dying Fire and Yin Chen-hao’s Call Of Lobster). Leading filmmakers such as Taiwan’s Chen Wei-hao and China’s Guan Hu are attached to produce some of the projects, three of which are from first-time directors (see here for full details).

As part of the programme CAA China will provide a cash award of US$20,000 each to two hand-picked projects to support their development, along with mentorship from two CAA China clients – writer Zhou Yunhai (Godspeed, Coffee Or Tea?) and writer-director Li Fei (The Gift, Two Tigers). CAA China also has an option to board the winning projects later by entering into script development deals.

Reconnecting China To The World

CAA China was established in 2017 by U.S. talent agency CAA and Chinese investment fund CMC Capital Partners, although CAA’s involvement in the market stretches back nearly two decades to the birth of China’s contemporary film industry. In addition to repping film and TV talent in China, the agency has a portfolio spanning music, sports and brand partnerships.

Roeg Sutherland, Co-Head of CAA Media Finance, says: “We have a very strong footing in the local business that goes beyond representing actors. Our Beijing team, working in close collaboration with agents in Los Angeles and across the globe, have done fantastic work and are well-positioned to continue to build out opportunities within the market for local and international clients.”

China’s film industry, across production, distribution and exhibition, was effectively cut off from the rest of the world during the pandemic, and has been slow to reengage during the past 12-18 months of market recovery, but Sutherland is optimistic that the market is starting to open up: “Consumer demand is slowly rebounding and we’re seeing a certain openness to bringing foreign business into the exhibition market. It may not likely reach the highs of before, but there is activity where it was once dormant.”

The potential rebuilding of bridges between China and the rest of the world will no doubt be under the spotlight at this year’s HKIFF Industry Project Market, which is presenting a diverse range of projects from across East, South and West Asia, not just the Chinese-speaking territories.

This year’s HAF will be showcasing 26 In Development Projects, including Japanese filmmaker Koji Fukada’s Nagi Notes; Camellia Girl from Korean-US filmmaker Josh Kim; projects produced by leading Chinese filmmakers Wang Xiaoshuai (Zhang Yushan’s About Her Hidden Life) and Zhang Lu (Zhang Yu’s Tephra); and Iran-Ukraine co-production, The Echo Of The Leopard.

The line-up also includes 15 Works-in-Progress including Taiwanese filmmaker Chang Tso-Chi’s Intimate Encounter; Kawalan, from the Philippines’ Lav Diaz; Mark Gill’s Ravens, a co-production between France, Japan, Spain and Belgium, which stars Japan’s Asano Tadanobu; and Philippines-Japan-Malaysia co-production Diamonds In The Sand, directed by Janus Victoria and starring Japan’s Lily Franky.

<strong><em>HAF 2024 Works-in-Progress project Diamonds In The Sand</em></strong>
HAF 2024 Works-in-Progress project Diamonds In The Sand

Meanwhile, HKIFF Industry’s activities are not limited to this intense period in March during Filmart when a total of 47 projects are being presented. Each year, five HAF projects are selected to take part in the HAF Goes To Cannes initiative, helping the selected filmmakers to broaden their international networks.

During the late summer, HKIFF also hosts a five-day Film Lab where a group of selected filmmakers take part in training workshops, among which two or three are given mentors to help them prepare for entrance into HAF the following year. “At present the projects are all Chinese-language but we’re hoping to be able to introduce non-Chinese projects in the future,” Wong says.

In addition to this, the festival manages HKIFF Collection, which gives selected projects advice on festivals and international distribution strategy. Some of the projects are handled by Song Yiran’s Beijing-based Monar Films, while others are introduced to other international sales agents, depending on who is deemed most suitable. HKIFF also has a co-production initiative with China’s Heaven Pictures under which it is co-producing seven films with budgets of U.S.$139,000 (RMB1M).

“The idea is that we’re building an end-to-end system to take projects from inception to the screen,” says Wong. “It’s not easy because of the current difficulties in the international sales and distribution landscape, but we hope that by working with the right partners we can create a supportive ecosystem. While we’re working on genre projects with CAA China, we’re hoping to find other partners for different strands that could use support, perhaps children’s programming.”

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