Earlier, the Government announced a cinema requirement in the land lease of two designated government land sale sites, namely Kai Tak and Sha Tin, aimed at promoting the development of Hong Kong's film industry. However, is what we need a hardware boost or more homegrown production talents to revitalise the industry?

 

Shining bright at this year's Hong Kong Film Awards Presentation Ceremony were a few emerging filmmakers. Trivisa, co-directed by a trio of young directors, scooped a total of five awards, including Best Film, while Weeds on Fire and Mad World, both by novice directors, grabbed the spotlight and prizes.

New train of thought for Hong Kong films

"It's been more than two decades since the prime of Hong Kong's film industry. Today a group of young directors have been made ready." As Director (Acting) of the School of Communication's Academy of Film (AF), Professor Eva Man remarks that through the success of young directors, a new ray of hope as well as a new direction for the development of the local film sector has come to light. "At the prime of Hong Kong's film history, gangster films and kung fu films were very popular. However, this is all in the past. These days films of a certain genre are no longer the focus of young directors. Rather they are more competent in coming up with their own approach to tell stories about some trifles observed in daily life." 

Local films have taken different directions, from those geared towards entertainment and put on a grand spectacle for visual enjoyment to thought provoking ones with depth. While the latter has gained a following among today's audience and is the style which a considerable number of young directors excel at, it's not easy for talented novices to get noticed. 

At the peak of Hong Kong's film industry, over 350 films were produced locally in a year. According to Professor Man, during that age of glory, filmmakers were driven forward by the whole market. However, last year there were only about 60 local productions. Under such circumstances, novice directors must be more proactive in seizing opportunities for filmmaking.

Novice filmmakers need support

Take Mr Steve Chan, the director of Weeds on Fire, for example, as a fresh face who graduated from AF in 2012, he was unable to penetrate the Mainland market, let alone raise sufficient funds for a movie. Nonetheless, with an outstanding script and the University's recommendation, he stood out in the Government's inaugural First Feature Film Initiative competition and was awarded HK$2 million to produce his first commercial feature film.

This uplifting and inspiring film, recounting the story of Hong Kong's first youth baseball team "Martins" striving against the odds in the 1980s, is also a record of the director's own perseverance in making his filmmaking dream come true. Notwithstanding the Government's funding, to produce a sports movie that lasts at least 80 minutes, the cost of all production sessions, ranging from costumes and props to shooting, must be squeezed to the minimum. Having overcome one difficulty after another, his work was eventually recognised and lauded for reaching the standard of a HK$7 million production. "Without sufficient funds, it was a tough exercise for a novice director. Especially when restricted by certain conditions, he must focus on creativity and give more thought to the plot of the film," says Mr Man Shu-sum, Associate Director of AF. He added that the Academy offered staunch support for the production of Weeds on Fire by lending all the available equipment to its director, getting students involved in the film, and even recommending an executive producer for its production. Members of AF willingly gave a hand, all in the name of nurturing novice filmmakers for the local film industry. As a token of gratitude, the production team of Weeds on Fire donated HK$300,000 to their alma mater to support AF students to produce their graduation projects.

An opportunity to get noticed

"It's imaginable that without an opportunity to be recognised, young local directors can hardly emerge." Professor Eva Man says that with a view to creating more opportunities for students, AF, apart from working really hard to "prepare the soil" for them through teaching, set up Studio i in 2014 and launched the Feature Film Project and Micro-film Project. AF invited graduates and students to submit quality scripts, and fully supported them in converting texts into images, hence bringing them in line with the local film industry standards and setting them on the path to fulfilling their aspirations in film production.

"In possession of so many hidden pearls, why don't we unearth them on our own? We can claim ourselves to be the first academy with such comprehensive arrangements." According to Mr Man Shu-sum, this first-of-its-kind film project attracted over 200 submissions. Three winning films were chosen and are expected to be completed within this year. Among them is a feature film that is highly appreciated by well-known director and Chief Honorary Consultant of Studio i Dr Johnnie To. He has personally acquired extra funding for the production so the film's budget has more than doubled from a few million to over HK$10 million. Moreover, there are plans to screen it worldwide.

Leveraging on “The Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement", locally produced films have been making a mark on the Mainland market since 2003, gradually lifting Hong Kong's film industry from depression. At first glance, joint productions seem to be a panacea for Hong Kong's films. However, Mr Man Shu-sum believes that the future of the local film industry does not rely solely on joint productions, it also counts on young filmmakers. Looking at the films that won this year’s Hong Kong film awards, I could see the wholehearted passion of local filmmakers. All of them are working hard. I’m confident that Hong Kong's film sector, lauded as Hollywood of the East in the 1960s and 1970s, will regain its momentum and push ahead."