Hong Kong’s Filmart has notably lacked Australian attendees over the years. Russell Edwards checks in with the few regulars and a first-timer.
2 Apr 2014 - 10:59 AM  UPDATED 2 Apr 2014 - 11:30 AM

For all of the local rhetoric about engagement with Asia, Australian producers and funding bodies have long been a no-show at one of the major showcases of the Asian film industries, Hong Kong’s Filmart. Now in its 18th year and widely regarded as a bridging market between Berlin and Cannes, Filmart is a must for anyone with an interest in making – and keeping – Asian connections. But while many Australians have consistently given the event a wide berth, there a some in the commercial sphere that have been perennial Filmart attendees.

Christian Were, Madman Entertainment’s Product and Licensing Manager, annually turns up in Hong Kong (as well as Busan’s Asian Film market) to honour “Madman’s specific commitment to Asian content for the Australian market”. Were finds that Filmart has refined its position as the destination for Europeans who want to interface with the Chinese film market. “Filmart is the most mature, established film market in Asia, and where once I came to Filmart almost exclusively to acquire Asian product, the increasing influx of Europeans – such as the Italians and the Americans – means that Madman can also take meetings with our European contacts at Filmart too.

One of the primary topics at Filmart this year was how much busier it was compared to previous years. While some were saying that Filmart had finally come of age, Were did point out “There are maybe more sellers, possibly less buyers,” but he did agree that 2014 “is the busiest Filmart ever”.

Michael Favelle of Odin’s Eye had found the steadily increased activity of Filmart actually more of a distraction than a help. Instead of renting a booth in the Hong Kong harbourside exhibition space, as he has done in previous years, in 2014 Favelle set up his office in the café of an adjacent international hotel. “Because of the increased volume at Filmart, it is better for me to set up here,” he says. “In the exhibition space, there are too many time wasters and tyre-kickers. It’s just more productive to be here and take my meetings, without any unwanted distractions.”

One organisation that was excited by the high-volume foot traffic at Filmart was Brendan Styles of Heritage Films, a Gold Coast-based company that sells films that promote “faith and family values”. On his first visit to Filmart and even with a booth that sat on the Siberian border of Filmart’s vast hinterland, Styles found that he was doing very well out of the passing trade. Styles also found his first Asian market to be a polite change from other similar events.

“Unlike markets like MIPCOM (The entertainment content market held in Cannes) or AFM (the American Film Market held in Santa Monica), where people cancel at the last minute or just don’t show up, 90 percent of people at Filmart keep their appointments. I hadn’t anticipated being so busy.” Style adds that, “with all these appointments and so many walk-ins, I’m falling behind on my reports.”

While the sex and violence of Asian genre movies might provide an odd backdrop to Heritage Films’ Christian-themed product, Styles found that he has quickly established a valuable niche, making good sales to the Philippines and to Taiwan.

The chief rival to Filmart in terms of access to the Chinese film industry has been the Beijing Film Market. Given that Screen Australia has chosen Beijing as its primary focus in Asia, it seemed odd that Favelle bothered to keep coming back to Filmart.

“I went to Beijing a couple of years,” he says. “I thought at the time that the trajectory of Beijing meant that it would overtake Filmart. I’m now not convinced that it would happen anytime soon. The reason that organisations like Screen Australia go to Beijing is because they operate on a government-to-government level. I seriously question the value of sending delegations to Beijing for little tangible result. I’m constantly asked by companies in Hong Kong and Asian, why doesn’t Australia send representation to Filmart? They think we’re not interested in the business side of film.”

As to the fruits of the business gathered at Filmart, both Were and Favelle were circumspect.

True to their established position as the forefront of distribution of Japanese animation in Australia, Madman had been able to secure releases for 009/1 Cyborg from Nikkatsu and Black Butler (pictured) from GAGA. These Japanese anime, both spin-offs from popular manga, will be set for release later in 2014. The rest of the Madman acquisitions are likely to be announced either just before or during the Cannes market in May.

Favelle wasn’t prepared to reveal the names of any of his acquisitions, either, and will likewise announce titles around Cannes.  But he did say there are always new twists in the market to adapt to. “It’s is no longer enough to have a cool concept, or cool key art.” He explains. “You need to have name cast in place, because of the ancillary platforms like VOD. Famous names get those measurable results.” As to what those results were, Favelle wouldn’t be drawn, but he did mention that the next big Odin’sEye project was an upcoming animation.

But if deals can’t be announced, what’s the point of attending Filmart? In fact, given the advances in technology, isn’t a film market an outmoded concept? Once, film’s business personnel had four or five days to hammer out a deal and then never saw or spoke to their business partners for months. Due to the advent of PDFs, email, skype, and, of course, our constant companions, the mobile phone, negotiations are now an ongoing process. Madman’s Were stresses, however, that while he prefers to close deals when he is back in Australia so he can run potential purchases by his Madman colleagues, the face-to-face time at a market with business partners is essential for nurturing relationships and, of course, for establishing new ones. “You always feel better about dealing with people you’ve met rather than someone you never see.”