SARS scare stalls Hong Kong pic forum

More than 40 expected guests had dropped out

HONG KONG — The outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) has forced organizers to postpone the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum and Screenings, due to start here Monday, amid a slew of cancellations from overseas guests.

More than 40 of the 180 expected overseas guests have pulled out of the three-day event.

Execs from organizers the Hong Kong Motion Picture Industry Assn. and government-backed funders the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority had decided to soldier on with the confab when they met March 25. But they were forced to reconsider that decision Tuesday as the numbers affected by the potentially lethal pneumonia-like illness continue to mount.

“This is very disappointing as we’ve been working hard these past five months,” said HAF director Albert Lee. “We need to work out the logistics whether to have it in June or later.”

Lee said organizers are not ruling out pairing the event with Filmart in June if the crisis and fears have subsided.

Some countries have advised citizens not to travel to areas affected by SARS, and some delegates fear possible quarantine once they return home. Traveling amid the war in Iraq also was a concern for a minority.

There have been 1,622 SARS cases and 58 deaths in 15 countries including 530 cases and 13 deaths in Hong Kong.

With its attendance less dependent on overseas guests, the Hong Kong Intl. Film Festival (April 8-23) is still scheduled to take place.

However thesp Sophie Marceau, invited to present awards, and jury members costume designer Emi Wada and director Clara Law have pulled out due to concerns over the SARS outbreak.

HKIFF director Peter Tsi said ticket sales were brisk, even though some experts are advising the public to stay away from crowded places. “Our rule of thumb is that if venues are open and running, we’re obliged to hold our screenings,” said Tsi. “We are making sure venues take stringent sanitary measures.”

Government-run venues are also providing masks upon request.

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