Expo may secure a happy ending for film industry

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 March, 2005, 12:00am

Good news for Hong Kong's beleaguered film industry might be rare, but the launch of the Entertainment Expo is a sign that something is going right.

The events being held as part of the expo are not necessarily new. Some have been put on annually for decades. But they have been spread across the calendar in scatter-shot fashion, diluting much of their influence and brand-building potential. This year's two-week expo schedule, which brings together, among other events, the international film festival, a trade show aimed at buyers, and a financing forum to match projects with investors, should help counter that dilution.

The change indicates that perhaps the city's film industry professionals and trade promotion officials might at last be on the same page. The industry's falling production figures and middling prospects of recent years are the result of many factors, including widespread movie piracy. But insufficient co-ordination among these groups does seem to have led to lack of energy in film promotion efforts - and left us vulnerable to regional filmmaking competition.

No doubt that competition can only grow. It seems every city in the region with a festival of its own is aiming to become the Cannes of Asia. Pusan and Bangkok are the major contenders, with festivals and film productions receiving major government backing.

Finding a niche for Hong Kong's own film events will be made easier by a regularly scheduled and adequately promoted Entertainment Expo. The glitches this year included gaps in funding and sponsorship, and hasty organising in general. The commitment should be made now, even as the expo kicks off, to making it an annual event so that planning for upcoming years can begin.

As troubled as the industry is, its demise is not just around the corner. Ten local movie projects will be among the 28 to be presented at this year's film financing forum. Hong Kong techniques still inspire filmmakers from Hollywood to Mumbai. Our best directors, actors and cinematographers are in demand overseas.

What is in question is whether the glory days when the industry churned out 300 movies a year and packed local theatres will ever come back. But even if the industry revives, it is almost certain that things will not be exactly the same. A changing marketplace means needing to cater for viewers on the mainland and throughout Asia. Productions are now international undertakings. And in a world where Hong Kong's innovations from the 1980s and '90s have all been replicated elsewhere, the question is how to deliver something new. Stylistic staleness of recent years must be overcome.

A revived Hong Kong film industry is still possible. A well-branded and wellorganised expo, one that helps the industry find its way around new challenges, could play an important part.