Hong Kong Filmart Faces Challenging 2020 Edition As Some International Sales Agents Hesitate

Filmart, the Hong Kong film and TV market that attracts a wide cohort of international sales delegates each March, is facing a challenging 2020 edition, with multiple companies telling us they are considering skipping the event.

The wave of politically-charged protests that have hit the island in the last six months have caused several local events to be cancelled. While the situation has stabilized recently, Deadline has spoken to a raft of sales companies over the last week who said, at this stage, they are not planning to attend next year despite being regulars at the market.

One European seller and Filmart veteran claimed they would not attend next year due to the “risk”. Rather than safety, their concern came from the event not offering refunds on fees should it be cancelled. There are also flights and accommodation to consider, which all in could add up to a hefty expense if there is disruption.

Other execs said they are planning to attend as normal, barring an escalation in the disruption. On the whole, while normally by this time of year many companies will have locked attendance, the overriding stance at this stage remains ‘wait and see’.

Last year’s Filmart reported it had 888 exhibitors from 35 countries and regions, and a total of 9,000 visitors from 52 countries and regions.

The Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), which runs Filmart, insists that the event will run March 25-28 as scheduled, and points to other events that have recently taken place in Hong Kong as proof that disruption will be minimal.

A HKTDC spokesperson told us, “Despite the past months of protests in the city, HKTDC’s fairs and conferences have shown that it is still an effective international business platform. Major business events have been held smoothly and safely in Hong Kong, including HKTDC fairs and conferences. In fact, since July, we have successfully completed some 20 events, including the Belt and Road Summit, which drew over 5,000 business and government leaders from more than 60 countries and regions. The events also include 16 exhibitions, which drew about 220,000 trade buyers and 14,700  exhibitors.”

However, significant events have been called off recently. This week, Reuters reported that the city’s traditional New Year’s Eve fireworks, usually a major tourist event, were to be cancelled for the first time in a decade due to the protests. Last month, the exhibition conference CineAsia was cancelled a few weeks before it was scheduled to take place.

In the UK, companies told us they were holding fast until they receive advice from the bodies based here, such as the BFI, British Council and Film Export UK. Deadline has spoken to those organizations about what discussions are taking place behind the scenes regarding Filmart.

One body told us it will adhere to the government’s FCO travel guidance, which currently does not advise against travelling but does note that visitors should “remain vigilant” about the protests and should be wary of potential travel disruption.

Another highlighted the chicken-and-egg scenario currently at play, with sales companies looking to receive confirmation that buyers would attend before confirming their own attendance.

Charlie Bloye of Film Export UK, the sales agent body that arranges the UK’s national pavilion at the market and last year saw 18 companies attend, told us, “There’s been a UK umbrella stand at Filmart for the last 15 years and we don’t want 2020 to be any different. If UK sales companies want to meet buyers in Hong Kong, we’ll find the way to make it happen.”

A BFI exec also confirmed that conversations are ongoing about “how best to continue the UK’s involvement” in Filmart next year.

European Film Promotion, the international network of national film promoting bodies, which also arranges a pavilion at Filmart and provides support to attending companies, told us it was forecasting its membership’s “attendance could be a little lower compared to last year”.

“The general interest in EFP’s stand affirms Filmart’s importance even in very difficult times. Apart from the uncertain political situation the biggest concern of course is, whether all Chinese buyers will be attending the market. Filmart confirmed, that they will do their utmost best to ensure the participation of as many buyers as possible,” said Sonja Heinen, managing director EFP.

The fact remains, if companies continue to hesitate over signing up for the 2020 edition, speculation over the event’s viability will increase. If it does go ahead, it seems inevitable that it will be a slimmed down edition with lower overall attendance.

Filmart takes places alongside the Hong Kong International Film Festival (March 24 to April 6). The festival has confirmed to us that it will go ahead as planned with no major changes.

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