HAF, a film financing tribune that defies boundary
Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF), the most important film-financing platform in Asia, has been helping over one hundred directors in the past eight years to win interested investors in their films. The list covers Jia Zhangke, Bong Joon-ho, Arvin Chen and Chang Tso-Chi as well as Ann Hui, Stanley Kwan, Tsai Ming-Liang, and Kurosawa Kiyoshi.
Every year, a few hundreds of projects are read by three people on a jury named Script Development Fund Reading Committee. Around twenty-five make into the final selection and get a chance to shine in HAF during Hong Kong International Film Festival. In the first four years, ten Hong Kong projects got selected each year, together with those from Vietnam, Singapore, mainland China, etc. Gradually, HAF open its arms to a bigger world and each year there are five local projects presented in HAF while Korea, Japan and mainland China get the other biggest share.
Jacob Wong, Director of HAF, explained the reason why Bollywood is almost absent in HAF: India cinema usually has their own financing structure and seeking co-production in Asia is not so common for them. Also, considering Hong Kong is in East Asia, HAF has a tendency to put more concentration on East Asia and Southeast Asia, the tropical region where independent cinema is familiar with co-production markets that are operated by international film festivals.
Attentive audience will not miss the distinctive trend that there are quite a few projects from the Philippines and Thailand over the years. Mr. Wong said with a smile that this is because filmmakers from these two countries have more submissions.
As a matter of fact, most submissions come from Mainland China and Southeast Asia. Not so many are from Japan at the moment because the habit of co-production is not so developed, a little bit of Korea in the early days, but not so many now. The number of submissions from China is still on the rise.
Nevertheless, a close look at the booming of Korean cinema ten years ago suggests a lot of local venture capital has entered the industry so production companies are more open and aggressive for foreign collaborators and markets. Mr. Wong proudly reminds cinephiles that in the early days, some of the major Korean film projects were in HAF and these directors later became world-renowned, like Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho and Kim Jee-woon. The Korean industry has reached another plateau because they also have their own co-productions in Busan, he added.
Filmmaking beyond borders might be a motto of HAF as it tries to support good cinema from everywhere: projects from Sri Lanka, Armenia and Kazakhstan were selected in HAF to meet the demand of extensive co-production markets.
Meanwhile, don’t be too surprised when you spot Australia on the HAF list as Australia usually considers itself as part of Asia. Besides, Great Britain, Finland and Iceland are also quite visible in HAF: a well-told story has a shot as long as it takes place in Hong Kong or mainland China. A good story knows no boundary, plus professional experience seems to outweigh geographical distance as in the case of a 2012 HAF project from Icelandic Academy Award nominee Fridrik Thor Fridriksson.
During its eight years of active engagements, HAF has been a driving force in Asian film industry, but in the earlier days, it could be difficult to get financial support. In the year 2001, 2002 and 2004, HAF did not take place due to a lack of funding. But after that period, it manages to offer continuous support to filmmakers, thanks to a steady fund resource came from the Hong Kong government. Up to today, HAF is largely supported by the government.
Regarding what kind of film projects will be selected, HAF Manager Matthew Poon confirms that the story matters and the filmmaker’s experience, too. “If a filmmaker has no film production experience at all, it is difficult to get picked because the financier would be skeptical even if you have a very good story. If you haven’t made any films before, how are you going to ask me for a million dollar in your project?”
Still, not every project come half-way through production in HAF. In fact, most come with a script, an idea or a trailer. Usually HAF supports budding directors, but in times of global economic recession, one can find big names like Apichatpong on the HAF list.
Filmart in HKIFF has built on the prototype of CineMart in International Film Festival Rotterdam, probably a prototype for most of the film markets in film festivals around the world, and HAF has learned a lot and received substantial support from Rotterdam, said Mr. Wong.
Also a delegate for Berlinale and some other distinguished film festivals, Mr. Wong commented: “Film markets, or these co-production markets are like airports: they are all the same although they all think they are different – they show films, they run a market and they set a platform for filmmakers to meet people with money. There’s subtle difference though, every year in Locarno, they concentrate on a country or a region, say, China, the Subcontinent or the Middle East. In Berlin, they don’t support rich Europeans but filmmakers coming from the third world country.”
Maybe the glorifiied history of HAF establishes on its glamour to spot and support both upcoming talents and established filmmakers as well as to attract production companies like Wild Bunch and The Weinstein Company. A word of advice for filmmakers that are seeking global funding? Pay attention to our annual submission period, welcomed HAF Manger Mr. Poon.
What are 2013 HAF filmmakers say about HAF?
Lawrence FAJARDO: We are here to discover things. Every day, people come to our booth with good comments and suggestions that are very important for our script development. That’s why HAF is a very positive experience: I have shown my films in Busan, Moscow, Edinburgh, Cairo and Île-de-France, but HAF is my first film market experience to see the business side of movie-making. Going to HAF makes us realize that as my films have traveled somehow, maybe now is the timing we take things slower and think a bit bigger, rather than hurry up film-making and production with a small budget. Step up a bit. HAF is great for us to improve ourselves, helpful not just in terms of contact, but also our knowledge and perspective in movie-making.
FAN Jian: HAF is a platform to obtain investment: you can find people that are willing to help you. Such a platform is very rare in mainland China, especially for documentary projects. I have been to a similar platform in Busan and I feel HAF here in HKIFF is more efficient as there are a number of arrangements in a tight schedule. Filmmakers can have one-on-one meetings with over twenty potential investors. I hope HAF, in the future, could separate the feature film section and documentary film section: Some investor come and say you have a good story but why don’t you make a feature instead? The reason is that they make feature films and thus might have different tastes. I focus on social issues and I think TV channels like Al Jazeera, BBC and NHK are what documentary filmmakers need. I have made a trailer and am showing it at HAF: a few programmers of different film festivals express their interest in my film.
Anocha SUWICHAKORNPONG: Many years ago, I came to HAF when I was making my first feature. I later was quite stunned that they picked me as a first-time filmmaker as I learned KORE-EDA Hirokazu and JIA Zhangke were in HAF before. I think they are very open-minded. Two years ago, I came to HAF as a producer and met a lot of genuinely passionate people that are interested in filmmaking. This is my third time in HAF, now with my Bosnian co-director Šejla KAERIC. HAF is a good place to meet people: six years ago, I met a Singaporean director during lunch. We ended up working together and he was the producer of one of my films. This happens a lot in HAF.
Sejla KAERIC: I come from a slightly different world of art and HAF is a new experience. Anocha and I were invited by the Copenhagen DOX and in HAF, we meet some interesting people, have good contacts.
KAWASE Naomi: This is my second HAF experience. I came to HAF first in 2008. In the last five years, I feel there is more Asian presence in the market. Also, the Asian market has expanded, including the Chinese, the Korean and the Japanese. As for HAF, I don’t have to fly all the way to the other side of the planet and they do invite the Europeans to come over so it’s a more comfortable environment and situation for the Asians. I believe the Asian filmmakers should come together to express Asia as one. Directors, producers and distributors all come together and send the message to the rest of world.
PENG Tao: HAF means an awesome platform, more publicity and a chain of support. In the Chinese film market, HAF is probably the most comprehensive one. Rotterdam helped me with my two films and I’m grateful. Now that I am no longer a new director, I feel a bit hesitant to apply Rotterdam as those funds belong to new and upcoming directors. HAF staff is very helpful: whenever I am asking for help, they’ll solve my problem immediately.
LAM Suk-ching: HAF is a full package to me. People come with diversified purposes: they look for co-production, partial investment or more control of a project so I can see what kind of options I have for my film. In HAF, I meet prominent production companies to see what kind of cooperation and investment is the best for me. This is like a tailored platform where you can encounter decent investors from Asia and Europe.
Apichatpong WEERASETHAKUL: To see what kind of people are coming and looking for what. Of course, I know what I am looking for, but I’d like to see what other buyers, producers are interested in. because I live in a village in a small town in Thailand, coming here is like updating myself about what’s going on in business. My producer had many meetings in HAF. (On the diverse Thai indie film scene) I think we have to survive by collaborating with outside, especially with Asian countries: China, Korea. This is very important because boundaries are getting less and less. Also considering the instability of Thai economy, it is necessary. My first HAF experience did help me to understand the practicality of the film business, for example, my last film is a bit expensive. To know what we are capable of, so we can deliver the best project by working within a budget.