Hong Kong Film Awards board to vote on changing system that allowed Ten Years to win
UPDATED: Industry association director has proposed stripping professional adjudicators – filmmakers, actors and critics – of their majority vote on awards, amid dispute over dystopian movie’s win and whether it should have been eligible
A proposal to change the system for picking Hong Kong Film Awards winners will be put to a vote on July 19, amid calls for reform after independent film Ten Years scooped the best picture award at the 35th Hong Kong Film awards in April.
Made on a modest budget of HK$500,000, the politically sensitive film takes a dystopian view of Hong Kong in 2025 under Beijing’s rule. Ten Years’ nomination was announced in late January, a week after an editorial in the Chinese newspaper Global Times called the film absurd and overly pessimistic. Chinese media then pulled out of broadcasting the awards ceremony despite a prior contractual arrangement. The film’s surprising win sparked fierce debate in the movie industry.
Under the current system, the winner in each category is chosen in two rounds of voting. In the second round, a group of 55 “professional adjudicators” made up of filmmakers, actors and seasoned film critics account for 55 per cent of the total votes, while the remaining 45 per cent of the votes are cast by hundreds of executive committee members from 13 film groups, including the Film Directors’ Guild and the Society of Cinematographers.
At a meeting of the board of directors of the Film Awards Association last month, Crucindo Hung Cho-sing, who represents the Hong Kong Motion Picture Industry Association and the Hong Kong Chamber of Films, proposed to strip the votes from the 55 professional jurors.
“The jurors can control the outcome if they all vote for the same [film or person]. The opinion of the about 1,000 voting members would not matter, as they only account for 45 per cent of the votes,” Hung tells the Post. “That is very unfair.”
Asked to clarify, Hung explained that Ten Years should not have qualified for the film awards in the first place, as it is not a feature-length film but an omnibus of five short films. The rules on the Film Awards website stipulate that a film has to be “60 minutes or more in duration” to be eligible for participation; it is not specified whether a film comprising multiple segments is eligible.
Filmmaker and critic Freddie Wong Kwok-siu opposes the proposal, calling it ridiculous. “They just want to better manipulate the outcome to prevent politically sensitive films from winning,” says Wong. Even the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awards the Oscars, is becoming more diverse and inclusive – so why is Hong Kong moving backwards, he asks.
Filmmaker Shu Kei, chairman of the school of film and television at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, and committee member of the recently formed political party Demosisto, argues that Hung does not understand how the voting mechanism works and is simply hoping to better manipulate the results.
“No matter the judging mechanism, the larger the [number of voters] the more representative it is,” says Shu, who points out that if the jurors’ vote is scrapped, the decision-making process would be dominated by production companies and would not be fairer than the current system.
“Each year there is dispute about the results. But just because you don’t like the winner, it doesn’t mean the system is not fair ... The system was formed after 35 years of evolution and approved by the movie industry,” Shu adds.
Besides Ten Years’ best picture win, the 2016 Hong Kong Film Awards were dominated by writer-director Philip Yung Tsz-kwong’s Port of Call , which scooped seven awards, including a sweep of all five acting categories. The artful true-crime drama’s performance has not been cited as a factor behind the purported change to the voting system.
This is not the first time that Hung has stirred up controversy. Back in 2013, he warned that the looming Occupy Central movement would affect the local movie industry and deter Chinese investors. During the protest, the Motion Picture Industry Association and Hong Kong Chamber of Films took out a full-page newspaper advertisement to express their support for the Hong Kong police force.