After three years of taking place entirely online, Hong Kong International Film & TV Market (Filmart), the largest content market in Asia before the pandemic, is finally returning as a fully-fledged in-person event (March 13-16, 2023).
Hong Kong also dropped the last of its Covid restrictions earlier this week when the mask-wearing mandate for indoor and outdoor spaces was finally removed. The news marks the end of one of the world’s strictest Covid prevention regimes, which involved hotel quarantine for arrivals until last September, and effectively kept Filmart online in March 2022, when the rest of the international film market circuit was starting to make a comeback as physical events.
Filmart’s return is also coinciding with the long-awaited re-opening of the mainland China market. China started to drop its Covid restrictions at the end of last year, somewhat suddenly, and the border between Hong Kong and China fully reopened last month. After a sluggish 2022, China’s box office also appeared to be springing back to life over the recent Lunar New Year holiday (Jan 21-27), with total box office reaching around $1BN.
According to Filmart organizer, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), these sudden changes resulted in a flood of late-stage enquiries from mainland Chinese companies about Filmart attendance. “We’re expecting the number of exhibitors from mainland China will be even higher than in 2019,” says HKTDC associate director, Peggie Liu.
“Many Chinese companies say they haven’t been anywhere outside of the mainland for more than two years, so they’re happy to come back to Hong Kong for the food, friends and of course for business. They’re not only looking to buy and sell but also want to talk about investment projects.”
Among the Chinese companies signed up for the event are all three of the big streamers, iQiyi, Youku and Tencent Video, along with major film and TV producers such as Bona Film Group, Huace Film & TV and Wanda Pictures, and sales agents including Blossoms Entertainment and CMC Pictures.
Meanwhile, Filmart’s Entertainment Pulse conference will include sessions on Asia’s post-pandemic media business, with speakers including CJ ENM’s Sebastian Kim and Zee Entertainment’s Sanmesh Thakur, along with China-focused sessions with Bona Film Group COO Jiang Defu and Daylight Entertainment president Hou Hongliang. Further sessions will focus on Chinese animation, dating and romance reality shows and the future of Web3 entertainment.
Overall, Liu says she’s expecting attendance to come in at around 80% of pre-pandemic levels, which she feels is on par with other returning film and TV markets. One headache the event faced is that, although Hong Kong is now fully open, the city’s international flight schedule has still not returned to full capacity. Liu’s team has been busy helping attendees figure out their flight schedules, as well as trying to arrange some group and sponsorship-related hotel discounts.
Filmart exhibitors have also been able to take advantage of the Hong Kong government’s ‘Convention and Exhibition Industry Subsidy Scheme’, which offers subsidies of up to HK$10,000 (US$1,275) per nine square meters of booth space. Hong Kong Tourism Board is also sweetening the deal with gifts and consumption vouchers for visitors as part of its ‘Hello Hong Kong’ campaign.
For those not able to attend in person, Filmart will open its online platform on the last day of the market, and keep it open throughout the month of April, enabling users to browse companies and content and watch the Entertainment Pulse sessions. “We’re still receiving a lot of enquiries about participating online only, as some companies don’t have the budget or still find it difficult to travel,” Liu says.
Returning umbrella organizations include: European Film Promotion (EFP); Korean Film Council (KOFIC) and Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA); Japan’s UniJapan and International Drama Festival, Tokyo; Taiwan Creative Content Agency (TAICCA); and a delegation of more than 20 Thai companies under the Thailand government umbrella.
The Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA), the trade association representing independent producers and distributors worldwide, is also returning to Filmart. The IFTA Pavilion will house seven companies – CineTel Films, CMC Pictures, Lakeshore, Millennium Media, Premiere Entertainment, Vision Films and Voltage Pictures – while around a dozen other IFTA members will also be present.
“While online events helped sustain our industry over the past few years, there is simply no replacement for face-to-face markets,” says IFTA president and CEO Jean Prewitt. “Filmart is an important show and we’re so pleased our friends at the HKTDC are returning to full operations and that Hong Kong is again open for our members’ business.”
However, not every country or industry pavilion has opted to return to Hong Kong. Among the delegations missing this year are the Film Development Council of the Philippines, Singapore Film Commission and Film Export UK. While some organizations are going through internal restructuring, others are reassessing their travel priorities or are unsure about business opportunities in the post-pandemic landscape.
Filmart has always been closely associated with the mainland China market, and while it’s slowly starting to reopen, it’s been difficult to co-invest or sell into that market for more than three years, so has moved off the priority list of some companies. Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s political landscape has changed dramatically since the last physical edition of Filmart with pro-democracy protests in the second half of 2019 and the introduction of the National Security Law in June 2020.
When contacted by Deadline, Film Export UK stated: “Our public funding partners neither encouraged nor discouraged us from attending but we listen to closely to our sales company members and they are ambivalent – nostalgic for the buoyant market of five years ago, certainly, but ambivalent about the commercial prospects and political background today.”
Filmart and Entertainment Pulse are both taking place as part of the wider Hong Kong Entertainment Expo, which also includes the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF, March 13-15), Hong Kong International Film Festival (March 30-April 10), Asian Film Awards (March 12), Hong Kong Film Awards (April 16), talent incubator ifva and the Digital Entertainment Summit.
HAF, which will take place alongside Filmart in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, has announced 28 In Development projects and 15 Work-in-Progress projects from around Asia for its first physical edition since 2019. The Asian Film Awards take place the night before Filmart opens at the new Hong Kong Palace Museum in West Kowloon.