A Report By Russell Edwards
While the Mainland Chinese pavilions have been growing like topsy over the past few years, at Hong Kong’s Filmart Australians have been rather thin on the ground. As a regular attendee of Filmart since 2004, I’ve seen the market rise – 2014 was a particularly strong year – and fall (March 2010 immediately following the Global Financial crisis was a tough one for everyone). Over that time one of the most frequent questions I’ve been asked is: where are the Australians? Representatives from Madman Entertainment and Odin’s Eye are always on hand, but largely the Australian film industry seemed to wary of Asia, sticking to cultural and linguistic rather than geographical ties and wilfully turning a blind eye to all that multiculturalism Aussies are so proud of when going out to restaurants.
But 2015 was different. No one was asking the “where are the Australians?” question this year. At Filmart 2015, it seemed like Australians were everywhere.
Most prominent were Hannah Moon and Joanna Bence who became know as The A Women, as that was the name of their project in the HAF (Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum). One of 30 projects in contention, The A Women was one of the few documentaries as this was only the second year that HAF made docos eligible.
Since having her short Dario funded through Screen Australia’s Springboard Programme, Hannah has since moved to the port city of Ningbo, in China’s Zhejiang province. While residing there Hannah has become interested in the phenomenon of shengnu which means “the leftover women”. In terms of their project’s title this phenomenon has come about due to the hierarchical nature of courting rituals in China and the men’s preference to dominate their womenfolk. Accordingly, the logic goes that the A men marry the B women; the B men marry the C women; and the C men marry the D women, etc, etc. This leaves many intelligent and independent women (ie. the A women) still single once they pass the age of 27 and are pushed out of the marriage market. Hannah has been focussing on this phenomenon where a certain type of woman is caught out by the twin realities of modernity and traditionalism.
China has not been producer Joanna Bence’s central focus at all. Joanna has a fascinating resume that has takes in London (of course), but also Russia and Central Asia, especially Kyrgyzstan, where she has been producing shorts, features and documentaries. And how do two people with different interests end up collaborating on a documentary on Chinese women: they went to high school together in Sydney! While their project was not selected for any of the HAF prizes, that’s not always the way the success of a film market is measured. Both Joanna and Hannah are keen to follow up on the connections made during the Filmart period.
While it was surprising to see two Australians selected for HAF it was even more surprising to find out that Cheryl Conway, the International Market and Content Producer at SPA (Screen Producers Australia) was leading a delegation of 13 Australian producers around Filmart. This was the first international delegation officially led by SPA. Chief Executive of SPA, Matthew Deaner said “Our decision to make Filmart our first international delegation recognises the importance Australian producers place on building partnerships and opportunities for co-production and co-investment in Asia and particularly in China.”
The gang in Cheryl’s care were Aidan O’Bryan and Janelle Landers (WBMC), Pauline Chan (Darkroom Films), Ian Hart and Hun Xiao (Peace Mountain Productions), Deidre Kitcher (Filmscope Entertainment), Robert Macklin and Cindy Li (JIA Films), Andrew Marriott and Rohan Taylor (SilverSun Pictures), Monica Penders (Screen ACT/Batavia Creative) and Joyce Smith (Content Corner). Some of these producers, like Pauline Chan, have already had first hand experience dealing with Chinese contacts and so were looking to enhance existing relationships with the Mainland market. The majority were first timers looking to begin to explore what the burgeoning Chinese film industry has to offer. While there is always the suggestion that some of this interest comes from the Willie Sutton school of producing, it is admirable that SPA are starting to look outside the standard English language cultural paradigm in terms of the stories that Australian producers can be involved in telling.
Troupe leader Cheryl Conway also spoke of the fact that despite the competitive nature of film production, that the more China experienced producers were not only hard at work on their own behalf, but were building bridges for the Sino novices as well. Previously LA-based for a number of years, Cheryl was throwing herself into the new environment. But as any producer knows, filmmaking is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. It will be SPA’s commitment to continue initiating Australian film producers into the Asian sphere that will be the true sign of success. Whether it be in Shanghai in June or Busan’s Asian Film Market in October or returning again to Hong Kong’s Filmart in 2016, the phrase “good to see you again” is often worth much more than the easily dispensed with “pleased to meet you”.