Hong Kong International Film Festival

Government film venues behind in digital revolution, says festival boss

HK festival boss says only three of the government-run screens can show the newer format, forcing it to use smaller commercial cinemas

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 April, 2013, 5:06am

The Hong Kong International Film Festival says its ability to grow audience numbers and help foster the city's film culture is handicapped by the lack of government-run auditoriums that can screen digital movies - the bulk of its offerings. It's forced to use smaller commercial venues, where fewer tickets are available.

"The audience potential is limited by hardware issues," the festival's executive director Roger Garcia said.

It is understood that out of the 306 films - including short films - showing at this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival, fewer than 20 titles arrived in the traditional 35mm format.

Only three government venues - the Cultural Centre Grand Theatre, the Space Museum and the Hong Kong Film Archive - have high-definition digital film projectors that can screen such works for the city's film festival.

Garcia said that as films shift from the 35mm format to digital, inadequate projectors at government venues have forced the festival to hire commercial cinemas as screening venues.

As a result, despite the festival scheduling 388 screenings this year, the number of people getting the chance to see some films will be reduced from last year, due to the smaller capacity at commercial cinemas, such as the Grand Cinema at Kowloon Station and UA theatres at Cityplaza, Langham Place and iSquare.

Garcia said commercial cinemas at multiplexes can only seat about 120 to 150 people - fewer then many government venues. City Hall Theatre can hold 463 people, while the Science Museum lecture hall has 295 seats. However, these two venues are not digitally equipped.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), which runs these venues, often used at film festivals, admitted that currently only the Cultural Centre Grand Theatre, the Space Museum and Hong Kong Film Archive were equipped with high-definition digital film projectors.

The department revealed that the government has spent more than HK$1 million on one digital cinema projector and two servers at the Cultural Centre Grand Theatre.

Facilities at the Hong Kong Film Archive also cost a similar amount, while the projector at Space Museum set the department back around HK$300,000.

However, the City Hall theatre and the Science Museum lecture hall, which are also used for HKIFF screenings, are not equipped with high-definition digital film projectors.

"The Science Museum is equipped with a digital projector that supports the playing of films in DVD, Blu-ray and Beta SP formats," said a department spokesman.

The department said that it would consider installing more high-definition digital film projectors in its venues, depending on cost effectiveness and budget considerations.

Besides financial concerns, the venue's set-up would also be a factor. The LCSD explained that, for example, to install new a digital projection system at the City Hall Theatre would require a "substantial modification to the projection room".

The digital format can allow a director to make a movie for a fraction of what it would cost using 35mm film, which means some ideas that would never attract financing can get made and enter the festival circuit.

The festival ends tomorrow.