Hong Kong cinema may be a far cry from its glory days of the '80s, but there's no shortage of young people dreaming of a future in the film business. So to give young enthusiasts a better idea and appreciation of filmmaking, the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation initiated this week's Jump Cut Independent Film Festival with a programme curated entirely by teenagers.
Billed as the city's first "pop-up" festival for independent productions, it is also a platform for young filmmakers to showcase their work.
"We had an open call and the response was positive. Some were in film school, others in high school but all are passionate about film," says Maria Wong, head of performing arts at the foundation.
The organising panel of 13 teenagers was selected in December from a pool of applicants between the ages of 16 and 19. The group met every week to view independent productions and also to learn about different aspects of filmmaking at workshops and discussions led by industry veterans.
The meeting of minds was a thrill for 16-year-old Leung Yat-fung.
"In school, nobody shares the same passion I have for film," he says. "When I met these people, they are just as excited as I am about film. It's a great learning experience and opportunity to make friends."
To panel president Charmaine Chan, organising the event has opened their eyes to the industry and has helped them better understand their interest. "I gained a lot of insight, and it helped me refine my vision," she says, "I really enjoyed the workshops with experienced directors."
The idea was to spark the curiosity of the panel and to cultivate them as creative thinkers, says Wong.
Among the featured shorts is 6th March, which won best script in the open division at the Fresh Wave International Short Film Festival in 2011. Directed by Wong Chun, a creative media graduate from City University, the film explores different views on what freedom means in Hong Kong.
As a newcomer, Wong says it is often hard for him to stay true to his artistic vision while accommodating the wishes of investors and mainstream demands. That makes recognition at festivals especially important for filmmakers who seek autonomy but lack financing to realise their vision.
Despite such challenges, Wong is undaunted. "My attitude towards film has not changed. It's to tell a message, not only for entertainment; it is necessary to allow the audience to experience something that can help them gain perspective."
Kicking off the festival are two shorts by award-winning young filmmakers Kiki Wong, 21, and Ivan Li Wai-ching, 16, who impressed the committee with their sophisticated use of cinematography and innovative angles.
Wong's Room 12, which won best director and best cinematography at the Golden Sugarcane Film Festival in Taiwan last year, is a 12-minute work that explores the themes of suicide, guilt and the importance of human interaction.
"I really enjoy storytelling, and film is the best way for me to express myself," she says. "I love the topic of human relationships and interactions, [and] how dialogue and interaction can reflect these relationships."
Wong previously drew attention with a documentary about six days that she spent roaming the streets of Hong Kong with just HK$70 in her pocket. Made for a class exercise at Chinese University it was, she says, perhaps one of the most memorable experiences of her time in college. "I slept in a sleeping bag on the streets and took showers at government bathrooms."
Ivan, a budding star who has won awards in Hong Kong and abroad, will present The Legend, a documentary about the need to preserve Pok Fu Lam village. "The message I want to send out is that there is heritage we tend to ignore because of [a preoccupation with] technology," he says. "I love the entire process of filmmaking, of making something out of nothing … and I hope my film will get people to treasure what is around us and to get out of the virtual world."
As original as they are, both young talents acknowledge they will have to struggle to make a place for themselves in the local cinema industry.
You need experience for people to want you, but it's difficult to acquiring those skills in the first place, Wong says. "You need to give yourself opportunities by making films and [showing them at] festivals."
At the same time, Li adds, young people no longer want to take the traditional route of taking instruction from veteran directors. "We have our own ideas," he says. For details of the festival, go to http://issuu.com/hkyaf/docs/jumpcut_programme