Jacob Wong is the Director of Hong Kong – Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF). He is also the Delegate Asia of the Berlin International Film Festival. He also wrote for film columns of Hong Kong Ming Pao and Hong Kong Economic Journal.
Entering its 17th year, HAF is Asia’s premier film financing platform. It is committed to providing a professional platform to effectively bridge up excellent filmmakers with investors, producers, publishers and buyers.
This year’s finalists were selected out of more than 350 film applications from 10 Asian countries and regions such as Bangladesh, China, Iran, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea. The documentary category is a new addition for this year. The shortlist includes projects with budgets ranging from USD 2 million to USD 10 million. From first-timers to established names, from mainstream to independent productions, everybody can take this opportunity to seek investors or partners. HAF Director Jacob Wong said, “For HAF, the best ones in East Asia come from Mainland China, where it teems with life and creativity. There are many things in need of being expressed. The qualities are uneven, but there are indeed many good projects.”
“HAF provides young filmmakers with a one-stop service from the cradle to the grave: From the incubating Film Lab to HAF the financing platform, to WIP Lab and international film festival exposure (HAF goes to Cannes), all the way to a customized P&A plan the Film Industry Service. Hong Kong International Film Festival Association provides filmmakers with comprehensive services and opportunities of tapping into the international arena.
Filmmaking in Hong Kong has entered a new era. Hong Kong’s new directors and new projects tend to be more auteuristic and stylized, and the road ahead might not be easy. Talking about the support for Hong Kong films, Jacob said, “HAF has a quota for Hong Kong projects. There must be five Hong Kong projects each year. One of the two major awards must be given to Hong Kong. The help mainly comes from the Hong Kong government. They set up CreateHK, a dedicated agency, and the First Feature Film Initiative with a fund that offers 5 million HKD to support young filmmakers. I think they are doing the right thing because the Hong Kong film industry is now undergoing a transition. There are many Hong Kong filmmakers who are heading north, and the city with a population of 7.6 million people cannot afford a film industry. Even if all people in Hong Kong go to see your movie, it’s still hard to break even. The arthouse films and independent films thus indeed require the support of the government. There is no big film industry in Western Europe either, and it’s all about the film culture. Hong Kong may have to turn that direction, too, some day.”
Over the years, Jacob has worked closely with Chinese films and their international marketing and festival tours. He believes there are no certain themes or characteristics for Chinese films that would guarantee an easier international marketing. “Every film festival has its own personality, yet in my eyes, they are of no difference. Good movies are hard to be defined objectively, so it’s really hard to say. Everyone turns to the biggest film festivals, such as Berlinale, Cannes, Venice, chancing upon whichever that works by the time the film is completed. Some people say that Berlinale has a bigger appetite for social and political subjects, but, as a matter of fact, other film festivals like those just as much. You can only say some genres are not the festival type, such as romantic comedy. Sometimes a movie won a grand prize at a festival, others would follow suit. After Black Coal, Thin Ice, a lot of well-knit crime stories came out, good production value but no special quality. So, if you want to send a film to a festival, it should best be something new. ”
When speaking of the difficulties faced by Chinese filmmakers in the international arena, Jacob believes that the biggest difficulty comes from misunderstandings and rumors back home. “Many people only choose the biggest film festivals, such as the A-list film festivals, but all A-list film festivals’ competition units require a world premiere, which means that Berlin, Cannes and Venice film festivals all require 22 global-premiere movies. The whole world cannot produce more than 66 good movies each year, which might explain why other A-list film festivals are usually less sensational. I heard that if a film is awarded at the A-list film festival, there will be a bonus in China. So many people think that A-list film festivals are very important. Some people hold that Toronto Film Festival is not very important, because it is not an A- list, which has no competition unit, but in fact, TIFF is a major gateway to promote your film.”
For the young directors of the current Chinese film industry, Jacob suggested that the first film should not have a big budget. “The first film is really a test. If not doing it make you very uncomfortable, then go ahead. If you feel that you cannot do it without 25 million yuan, then hold on. Everyone is different. The film industry is getting healthier. There are young people making a film to tell their own stories, others simply enjoy working on site as a director, both fine. You don’t have to make an arthouse or genre film to be a director. The Chinese film industry used to be a dumbbell, with two heavy ends connected by a light midsection—a few blockbusters and the rest were small budget artsy films, no industry. Now the situation is slowly changing. Like a football, with a big midsection and two pointy ends. This is a relatively healthy status. ”