HONG KONG — Out in Victoria Harbor, hundreds of barges and small boats load and unload goods ranging from exotics to commodities; many of those goods will never even touch the Hong Kong shoreline. Inside the futuristic Convention and Exhibition Center, FilMart feels like a movie industry equivalent of the harbor’s transshipment activity.
Movies on sale at this year’ 11th edition of FilMart include “Freaky Circus Guy,” “Dr. Chopper” and “Topless Golf.” The international film trade with its high colors and low concepts has certainly washed in.
Market is infused with a new tide of sales companies from France, the U.K. and Hollywood’s straight-to-video crowd. First time exhibs include Shoreline Entertainment, Voltage Pictures and American Cinema Intl.
The Blighty contingent includes lesser-known names such as Celcius Entertainment and Bollywood specialist Eros Entertainment. French reps include a large technical industry component, including Eclair Laboratoires, animation house La Maison and Quinta Industries.
FilMart chief Raymond Yip is not turning his nose up at the new breed of market participant. The flood of newcomers means his gamble is paying off. This year, he has cut the financial incentives for buyers to attend, while pushing up the fees for sellers by a third as the market extends from three days last year to four this year. Final number of exhibitors has swelled from 352 to 407, distributor-buyers will top 3,000 and the number of financiers registered for the HAF project market has swelled from 530 to more than 700.
The influx is certainly changing the character of the market. The European and American presences make it a much more representative shop window for Asian buyers to select from. Similarly, the film sales companies are diluting the concentration of Chinese TV sellers and are arguably making it more of a feature film market.
Yip would like to argue that Hong Kong’s business-friendly attitudes are changing film business behavior, but he is also realistic enough to admit that the biggest growth stimulus is the China factor. “The Asian era is just beginning,” he says. None of the FilMart freshmen would disagree. “The Far East market is changing a lot. We want to get to know the players and be part of it,” Chevonne O’Shaughnessy, prexy of ACI, says. “We want to increase the width and depth of our Asian clients,” says Sam Eigen, director of worldwide sales at Shoreline.
It’s quite a different matter, however how ready Asia is — with its diverse cultures, religions and censorship regimes — for a flood of new genre product. Nor is the region short of its own fare in the categories of horror and action.
Companies like Canada’s Cinemavault Releasing, which has attended FilMart before, says it is focused on sales to video and TV, and has little expectation of theatrical business. “Our movies have always done very well in Asia. As with many audiences, they like to see more than local product,” says Cinemavaults’ Natalie Kampelmacher, VP of intl. distribution.
How many manage to strike deals in China in the coming days will be interesting. Though the theatrical window is hermetically sealed, Chinese TV distributors have much more latitude, and there is a growing new generation of netcast outfits acquiring rights for Chinese IPTV.
“FilMart is also an educational platform,” Yip says. “This is about as close as you can get to China without getting your feet wet.”