Josh Kim’s 2006 short, The Police Box
Where has Hong Kong gone? Once a world filmmaking capital, it has nearly vanished from the silver screen. Each year, far fewer feature films are made here than in cities such as Vancouver, Seoul and Tehran. What’s more, many recent Hong Kong movies, geared towards the lucrative mainland market, lack the local flavour that once made them so distinctive.
That’s something one of Hong Kong’s newest and most energetic film festivals hopes to change. After a one-year hiatus, I Shot Hong Kong is back, with a programme of 26 proudly local short films, music videos and documentaries.
“Hong Kong has lost its status as a premier filmmaking centre,” laments Craig Leeson, who helped found the festival in 2005. “In the late 1980s and early 90s, we were making 300 films a year here. From the start of 2001 until now, we’ve been making less than 50 a year. I think one of the reasons for that is that there’s no support for independent filmmakers or new talent. We’re not propagating filmmakers at the grass-roots level.”
With that in mind, Leeson has opened I Shot Hong Kong to filmmakers around the world, hoping to build a bridge between local and overseas filmmakers and to establish Hong Kong as a centre for independent film. To ensure local content, one of the criteria by which the festivals films are judged is the degree to which Hong Kong plays a role in the action.
“With these films you’ll be seeing locations that you don’t normally see. One of them is a horror film set on Lamma Island. I’ve never seen a film from Lamma,” says Leeson, referring to an entry entitled Isle Be Damned.
“When people come to the opening night, they don’t sit there like normal audiences, they have a very vocal reaction, they gasp and clap, and that’s because they recognise the places and the faces.”
For the first time, I Shot Hong Kong will take place at a commercial venue, the Grand Cinema, which the organisers hope will attract a wider audience than in previous years at the Hong Kong Arts Centre.
The festival is closely watched by film executives and industry insiders. Several directors, such as Josh Kim, whose film The Police Box won the Audience Choice Award in 2007′s festival, and Anthony Szeto Wing-wah, whose Taped was one of the original three that launched the first edition of the festival in 2005, credit I Shot Hong Kong with launching their filmmaking careers.
“The reality is that only bums on seats are going to pay for tickets,” says Lindsay Robertson, the festival’s creative director. “Part of what we’re doing is acknowledging that there is a practical element to all of this. It’s about connecting short filmmakers with the real world of cinema experience.”
Another attempt to generate interest in the festival is this year’s addition of the Artist Series, in which four actors – Josie Ho Chiu-yee, Eugenia Yuan Lai-kei, Terence Yin Chi-wai and Jason Tobin – will be given high-definition cameras and 48 hours to make two short films.
“One of the things that attracted me to this project is that it cuts out all the BS,” says Tobin, who first attracted attention with his role in the Asian-American teenage drama Better Luck Tomorrow. “You’re under the gun and you’ve got to perform. A lot of time artists get in their own way, they procrastinate. But this stops all that. You’ve got 24 hours to film, 24 hours to edit and you’ve got it get it all out of the way.”
If Hong Kong film has any future, he adds, it needs to find new ways to foster talent and the city must re-establish itself as a global filmmaking centre. Upstart festivals such as I Shot Hong Kong could play a role in that, alongside more government funding and new channels of distribution.
“I think a lot of us are aware that the Hong Kong film industry is not what it used to be,” he says. “I think another wave, the next wave, will be from independent filmmakers.”
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