The 15 years of Hong Kong Filmart have been a busy and transformative decade and a half in the territory, a period during which Cantonese movies developed a pronounced Mandarin accent, reflecting deepening cross-border relations with mainland China.

Co-production is always a big theme at this key event at the Hong Kong Intl. Film Festival, especially co-productions with the booming Chinese mainland.

“In the early days, co-production meant working with China to get a mainland release. But now the emergence of the China market has changed that frame of mind. The emergence of the China market has been a godsend, as we watched Hong Kong’s market share in Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia and other regional markets diminish. In the past two to three years, co-productions have gradually evolved into co-productions in a real sense,” says Albert Lee, chief executive of Emperor Motion Pictures.

A lot of people will be talking on the fringes of Filmart about whether China will be able to exceed last year’s $1.5 billion in B.O. without the help of an “Avatar”-sized project.

This year, Filmart will welcome nearly 600 exhibitors from more than 20 countries and regions, and organizers expect more industry screenings, world preems, seminars, special events and networking activities than ever.

Filmart will also see the inaugural U.S. Pavilion, organized by the Independent Film & TV Alliance (IFTA) will certainly bring sparks to the event, and the ACE Co-production Lab Hong Kong will also be launched in Filmart, aiming to provide a platform for producers from Europe and Asia to connect and explore business opportunities via a number of on-site marketplace presentations, screenings and case studies on co-production and distribution in European Union and Asian markets.

“It’s hard to isolate what the theme at this year’s event will be, but I think the focus on mega-budget films will continue. They are more expensive to make but commercially less risky,” Lee says.

Other features in Filmart will be TV World, Animation & Digital Entertainment World and Equipment & Post-Production Services Pavilion.

Hong Kong’s biz is doing well. B.O. in Hong Kong rose 11.11% in 2010, and while this was driven by a strong performance by “Toy Story 3” and dominated by Hollywood movies, local movies “Ip Man 2” and “72 Tenants of Prosperity” also made the grade.

The 35th Hong Kong Intl. Film Festival has named local favorite thesp and thrush Miriam Yeung as ambassador for the fest, which runs from March 20 through April 5.

The fest will celebrate the 20th anniversary of Fortissimo Films, which is acknowledged as helping to strengthen Hong Kong’s position in the international distribution and sales circuit with its range of Asian films.

The festival also includes Hong Kong Asia Film Finance Forum (HAF), one of the region’s leading film project markets and traditionally seen as a useful forum for networking.

HKIFF kicks off with two films premiering at the opening gala on March 20 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and UA Cityplaza.

“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” is a joint effort by Johnnie To and Wai Ka-fai.

The other pic is “Quattro Hong Kong 2,” which has been jointly helmed by four award-winning directors and is very much about Hong Kong. The four helmers involved are Thailand’s Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who won the Cannes Palme d’Or for “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” and shot his episode at the M Hotel in the city’s Yau Ma Tei area; Filipino helmer Brillante Mendoza, who won the director prize at Cannes for 2009’s “Kinatay”; Ho Yuhang from Malaysia worked with award-winning Wai Ying-hung to make the comedy “Open Verdict”; and Hong Kong is represented by local hero Stanley Kwan, whose “13 Minutes in the Lives of …” stars Gordon Lam and was shot on the return bus journey after viewing the computer animated scroll of the Song Dynasty painting “Along the River during the Qingming Festival.”

More from Filmart at 15:
H.K.’s Filmart gets Beijing accent | Garcia back at H.K. fest helm | 3D’s future eyed in Asia