That’s smart as that’s where the money is. And how well the China card is played may determine which red carpet shows will sink or swim.
All three of the shows that include ‘Asia’ in their title and claim some kind of pan-regional relevance have been on shaky ground for a few years now.
Seated in Australia, the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSAs) were backed by the government of the state of Queensland for the first six years of their existence and held in the seaside convention and surfing town of Gold Coast.
But as that support became more begrudging, the show came close to curtains. Organizers warned that the show might have to relocate abroad in alternate years in order to survive. Fortunately, the Brisbane City Council stepped in with a three-year deal. The seventh show takes place this week (Dec. 12).
In Hong Kong, the Asian Film Awards (AFAs) have also been running for seven years as a glittery accompaniment to the FilMart tradeshow, the HAF co-production market and the Hong Kong Film Festival in March each year. What the show has sometimes lacked in behind-the-scenes organization it has made up for in star power as its geographical location and adjacency to the spring tradeshows bring in senior executives and brand-name celebrities.
Now, however, Hong Kong’s Film Development Council, which channeled close to $1 million a year through the non-profit HKIFF Society to the AFAs, is turning off the tap. The FDC told Variety that technically speaking it has not rejected the AFAs; rather, it has not received an application from the awards show. That is a bureaucratic nicety, as behind the scenes the HKIFFS may have been told not to bother filling out the paperwork.
HKIFFS executive director Roger Garcia says he expects to be able to fill much of the gap for the 2014 event with corporate sponsorship. But it is scarcely a secret that both the AFAs and APSAs have held discussions with several Chinese cities about moving their events into China. None bore fruit. And both the AFAs and the APSAs have toyed with the idea of alternating between their home base and an overseas venue, in a fashion mimicking the peripatetic European Film Awards.
“We were looking at outreach initiatives into the growth cities beyond Beijing and Shanghai,” says APSA chief executive Maxine Williamson, who says the APSAs are also keen to expand their broadcast footprint. “But these things are tricky as you want to retain ownership and cultural control.”
“There may be a benefit to not being in the epicenter of Hong Kong or China. Sometimes it’s good to be away from the politics; we can be more like Switzerland,” says Williamson.
Having for many years been the rockiest of the three, the Asia Pacific Film Festival awards now looks like the comeback kid. Only last year the more than half century old APFF, which each year — when it is not cancelled — moves to a different city, was scheduled to make its first-ever visit to mainland China. However, its September 2012 port call in Shanghai was abruptly halted in July for political reasons. Chinese authorities are understood to have balked when they discovered that the APFF’s secretariat is based in Taiwan, the island territory that China considers a rebel province.
Thanks to the intervention of Hong Kong-based actor, producer and entrepreneur Eric Tsang, the event somewhat fortuitously landed at the Venetian casino and hotel complex in Macau with a show rescheduled for mid-December. The Macau “Special Administrative Region” is far enough away for mainland officials not to worry about the APFF’s Taiwan ties but still close enough to China be able to attract mainland Chinese TV sponsors.
(Also, the cavernous Venetian loves awards shows and has the capacity to put one on speedily. This July it threw its coffers and its doors open for the second time to the Indian International Film Academy (IIFA) awards, which had planned to go to South Africa but switched when the dwindling health of Nelson Mandela threatened to overshadow the Bollywood pageant.)
Now, for the moment at least, the APFF is sticking with the Venetian and Macau and will return to hold its awards show on Dec. 15 with the likes of Cannes’ Christian Jeune and “Infernal Affairs” producer Nansun Shi on the jury.
Last year’s APFF was passably glitzy, but almost completely devoid of buzz, PR build-up or much of a flesh-and-bone audience. That may not matter if the target audience is on TV, but quite what their purpose is none of the shows has fully worked out.
Different definitions of the Asia Pacific region and interpretations of what constitutes Asian content mean that the rival festivals and award shows claiming to be Asian each arrive at different lists.
The AFAs say they use a United Nations definition of the region as all territories “East of the Suez,” thus including Israel and Lebanon but excluding Palestine and Egypt and omitting Australia, New Zealand and Oceania.
The APSAs say their definition is based on U.N., Unesco and Asian Broadcasting Union terms. It includes Egypt, Palestine, Australia, New Zealand and most of the Pacific islands.
APFF is different again and relies on more than a dozen submitting organizations in numerous territories, which may or may not have anything to send in a particular year. It notably includes Moscow, which is West of the Urals and is by most standard geographical definitions firmly in Europe.
In 2010, both the European Film Awards and the APSAs gave multiple awards to Venice Golden Lion winner “Levanon” (Lebanon), written and directed by Israel’s Samuel Moaz. It won the EFA prize for cinematography and was also named European Discovery of the Year. Only two days earlier the same film, made with French, German and Israeli funding, won two APSA Awards in Queensland.
Although English is an official language of several Asian territories, English-language films can fare badly. Most likely they are considered too commercial, too well financed or simply “too Hollywood.”
All three shows failed to find any room for “Life of Pi,” despite having been made by a Taiwanese director (Ang Lee), in Taiwan with a largely Asian cast and having been partly financed by a Taiwan local authority.
“We considered ‘Life of Pi’ but the majority of production companies listed were outside Asia, and the nationality of the film is listed as U.S., Taiwan, U.K.,” said the AFA’s Garcia.
“We decided to err on the side of caution, but I recognize this is a difficult area, and becoming increasingly so with the growth in co-productions and establishment of foreign entities making films in Asia. I am not sure if we can confidently set a universal standard. ‘Snowpiercer’ is made by a Korean director (Bong Joon-ho), financed by a Korean company, but is shot outside Korea with an ensemble cast of both Korean and non-Korean actors and shot mostly in English; ‘The Raid’ is shot in Indonesia by a Welsh director but with mostly Indonesian cast and dialogue.”
“The easy way out would be to denote a film by nationality of director but I don’t think that’s entirely right — for example, ‘Thirst’ by Park Chan-wook, and ‘The Last Stand’ by Kim Ji-woon, both fine films, but I think most people would regard them as Hollywood movies. So for the time being I would venture that films have to be considered on a case-by-case basis.”
This year APSA has accepted “The Past,” by previous APSA winner Asghar Farhadi, even though in financial terms the picture is a French-Italian co-production. The decisive factor was that Iran had accepted it as its entry for the Oscar foreign-language film nominations.
Over in Taiwan, the Golden Horse Awards rarely have such problems. If the film is made in primarily in Chinese (official or vernacular), then it qualifies. But it can also take non-Chinese language films if a film is made by an ethnically Chinese director and five Chinese heads of department. “Life of Pi” may have failed the heads of department test, even though it was helmed by Taiwan’s leading filmmaking son.
The Golden Horse Awards did break new ground this year, however, by giving the best film prize to a Singaporean-made film, Anthony Chen’s “Ilo Ilo,” for the first time in its 50 years.
With their narrow racial definition of filmmaking, the Golden Horse Awards are no pan-regional Asian event, but given the growing economic might of mainland China the media commentators who describe them as the “Asian Oscars” may not be wrong so much as simply premature.
And if the Golden Horse is a runner in the race to embrace China, then so too are the Huading Awards.
Also known as the “Global Public Praise Awards” and the “Global Entertainment Celebrities Satisfaction Survey,” these are decided on by a mysterious combination of mainland Chinese public voting and a panel of Chinese experts. They have been held 10 times in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shenzhen in the seven years since 2007, but only burst onto the international media radar this October for the first time when the awards were held in Macau and were co-organized by Hollywood’s Don Mischer.
He helped bring in a bevy of international stars including Quentin Tarantino, Nicole Kidman, Avril Lavigne, Jeremy Irons and “Downton Abbey” star Michelle Dockery. The awards may have dubious categories – like Nicolas Cage’s “best global actor in motion pictures” – but the organizers seem to have enough smarts to give prizes to talent on hand. Cage, Tarantino and Kidman were all in China for other events and they draw in TV audiences.
The October edition of the Huading Awards was broadcast on Hong Kong’s dominant TVB channel and 67 TV stations throughout mainland China on Oct. 12-25, reaching a claimed audience of 800 million.
That’s a figure that the other shows would happily relocate or bend their rules for.
(Pictured: Actress, Joan Chen arriving at the 2011 Asian Film Awards in Hong Kong.)