SARS scares H.K. participation but future OK

HONG KONG — The 27th Hong Kong Intl. Film Festival wrapped Wednesday, battered by repurcussions from the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the same day the government unveiled a $1.5 billion aid package for sectors hit by fear of the virus.

The coin will lower operating costs for the entertainment, retail, restaurant and tourism industries, and a loan guarantee scheme will cover employees’ salaries.

“Our priority remains to prevent and control the disease,” said chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, announcing the measures. “However it is necessary to plan for arrangements to revive our hard-hit economy.”

The measures were announced a day after politicians consulted the film industry about their concerns over the impact SARS was having on business. Attendees had called for some of the steps that will be taken, such as waiving government-related fees.

Meanwhile, with the Hong Kong Motion Picture Industry Assn. reporting a 47% decline in box office receipts in March compared with the same month last year, the H.K. film fest held up well. It sold 50% of its seats in the first week compared with 53% last year.

The 16-day event took a knock when a World Health Organization travel advisory warned overseas guests not to travel to Hong Kong, nixing plans for its first international jury.

Three new competitions were introduced, but many winners were not present to accept their prizes in person due to concerns about SARS (Daily Variety, April 21).

With the fest over, work can resume on setting up the new Hong Kong Intl. Film Festival Society, which will take over the quasi-government Arts Development Council as the organizer.

Fest director Peter Tsi is optimistic key sponsors, such as Cathay Pacific, will not pull out despite a downturn in business. “The government’s Home Affairs Bureau has guaranteed our funding for four years,” he said. “The major contributions our sponsors allow are extra accreditation to invite overseas guests and publicity.”

Trade film events the Hong Kong-Asia Screenings and Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum, which are heavily reliant on overseas guests, were postponed from their April dates due to the SARS outbreak.

As a result, HKIFF organizers consider themselves fortunate the film fest took place. “We’re proud we could hang on,” Tsi said.

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