Fund fails young movie makers, says Hong Kong film community amid calls for overhaul

Current system for raising profile of local productions criticised for favouring films that are already adequately funded and promoted

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 September, 2013, 12:16pm

Filmmakers are calling for a revamp of the government's film funding system to make it more effective in boosting the international exposure of a greater diversity of directors and films.

They say the Film Development Fund's current system, which favours feature films, shuts out smaller films, including documentaries, and young film-makers.

A South China Morning Post survey of past sponsorships showed that the bigger the film, in terms of the involvement of major studios, star-studded casts and big-name directors, the more financial support they received for publicity at international festivals.

But support for young directors and documentary films was much less generous and often even non-existent.

Some filmmakers hope a separate category of support for smaller films will be created when the fund is reviewed at the end of this year.

"Young filmmakers can make themselves known internationally and build networks at festivals to further their filmmaking careers," said Winnie Tsang Lai-fun, managing director of film company Golden Scene.

"It also helps a new generation of Hong Kong films maintain their international exposure, so that the world knows what Hong Kong cinema is up to. You can't keep talking about Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan or other well-established names," added Tsang, also a member of the Film Development Council and producer of recent dance hit The Way We Dance.

At present, funding ranges from HK$40,000 to HK$300,000, depending on the ranking of the festivals at which they appear. The festivals are graded from tier I, such as Cannes, Berlin and Venice, to tier III.

Up to HK$1 million is offered to films competing for a foreign language film prize at the Oscars, but none have received this.

Vincent Chui Wan-shun, of independent filmmakers' group Ying E Chi, said it cost more to compete at major festivals, and today's trend did not favour small films as major film festivals liked showbiz glamour.

He also questioned why well-regarded festivals such as Munich in Germany and San Sebastian in Spain were listed in tier III, the lowest, instead of tier II.

"Should there be another category [of funding] for smaller films?" Chui asked. "A healthy industry needs diversity, and the box office isn't the only way to measure the value of a film."

Documentary filmmaker Tammy Cheung Hung said documentaries also had a market and got theatrical releases.

"They also showcase Hong Kong culture and a local cultural identity in a more direct way," she said. "The Film Development Fund only supports feature films, but it should include more categories of films in future."

Films entering the 21 festivals listed as tier II can obtain HK$80,000 to HK$100,000 of funding. For festivals graded tier III, up to HK$40,000 is available for each film.

Of the HK$4.13 million handed out since the government injected HK$300 million into the fund in 2007, HK$837,000 went towards supporting five films produced and distributed by Media Asia Films, a subsidiary of entertainment conglomerate Media Asia Group Holdings, which is listed in Hong Kong.

Of the five Media Asia films, two were awarded the top sum of HK$300,000 - action thriller Accident by Soi Cheang to compete in Venice in 2009 and Johnnie To Kei-fung's crime drama Life Without Principle, competing in the same festival in 2011.

Four other top sponsorships went to major film companies.

They included 2007 Venice entrants Emperor Motion Picture (International) with The Sun Also Rises at Venice in 2007 and One Hundred Years of Film Company with Mad Detective.

Others were Berlin 2008 entry Sparrow distributed by Universe Films Distribution and A Simple Life in Venice in 2011 by Bona Entertainment.

Bona is a subsidiary of Nasdaq-listed mainland company Bona Film Group.

More than half of the total - about HK$2.2 million - went to 43 films directed or co-directed by 12 big names who were best director winners at the Hong Kong Film Awards or Golden Horse Film Awards.

Among them, five films directed by To received a total of HK$1.13 million for the top European festivals, including three that received the top amount of HK$300,000.

The top three were Mad Detective , co-directed with Wai Ka-fai, which competed in Venice in 2007; Triangle, co-directed with Ringo Lam and screened at Cannes in 2007; and Life Without Principle, which competed in Venice in 2011.

Two films by Ann Hui On-wah, All About Love and A Simple Life, received HK$80,000 and HK$300,000 respectively to enter the 2011 Venice Film Festival.

Wong Kar-wai's My Blueberry Nights received HK$150,000 to compete at Cannes in 2007. A new edition of his classic Ashes of Time Redux received HK$40,000 when it was shown in Cannes the following year.

Of the 43 films, only six were directorial debuts, and four were directors' second features.

Film Development Council secretary general Wellington Fung Wing said a film's funding depended on whether it was invited to take part in a festival, and low-budget films were not necessarily excluded from major festivals. Festivals listed were updated regularly, and the council welcomed the opinions, he said.

Fung said the funding system would have to be reviewed at the end of the year as the fund would be depleted next year and the council would have to go back to the Legislative Council for money. He said more diversified support for films would be considered.