26 Nov 2019
Future of Cannes Hong Kong Film Week Uncertain After Muted Launch
After coming close to cancelling the event at the last minute, the question is – can Cannes make a go of it in Asia?
The Cannes Film Festival held its first Hong Kong Film Week earlier this month. Staged in conjunction with two local businesses – the K11 Group and New World Development – this marked the European festival's first foray into Asia.
In attendance at the opening ceremony were a number of Hong Kong's leading directors, including Wong Kar Wai, Johnnie To and Ann Hui, as well as such local luminaries as cinematographer Christopher Doyle and producer Bill Kong. A planned red-carpet event for a number of French and Hong Kong stars, however, was cancelled as the organisers felt it would be inappropriate in light of the escalating local unrest.
In fact, Thierry Fremaux, the Cannes Film Festival Director, confessed he had considered cancelling the entire Film Week, including all of scheduled screenings and masterclasses, when he arrived in Hong Kong the day before the official opening. It was only after consulting a number of local filmmakers and the event's partners that he decided to continue with the initiative. Commenting on the decision, he said: "From what we've been told, it's better to be here and show life is continuing to go on than to pull out. For us, it's also a way to show our support for the local industry."
Held at the K11 Musea, the Film Week presented six films from the Cannes 2019 official selection, including three titles that played in competition – Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Young Ahmed, Celine Sciamma's Portrait Of A Lady On Fire and Marco Bellocchio's The Traitor. Young Ahmed, which is being released in Hong Kong on 28 November, won best director in Cannes, while Portrait Of A Lady On Fire won best screenplay.
The selection also included three award-winning titles from Cannes' Un Certain Regard section, which focuses on films with an unusual style or non-traditional approach to storytelling. In addition to Christophe Honore's On A Magical Night, which opened the event, Karim Aïnouz's The Invisible Life Of Euridice Gusmao and Michael Covino's The Climb were also screened. A planned masterclass held by the Dardenne Brothers, the award-winning Belgian filmmaking duo, and a presentation by Fremaux on the Lumiere Brothers, regarded by many as the true founders of cinema, also went ahead as scheduled.
Although this was Cannes' first event in Asia, it was not the first time the festival had looked to extend its reach beyond Europe. Back in 2009, it held its first Film Week in Buenos Aires, the Argentinian capital, where it now co-organises an annual film market, Ventana Sur, in association with INCAA, the national film body. Its launch in Hong Kong comes as it reviews how best to expand the concept to other filmmaking hubs around the world as it looks to increase its level of communication with local filmmakers and producers, while sharing the Cannes' official selection with a wider audience.
Outlining the factors that are driving this greater commitment to internationalisation, Fremaux said: "We need to ask what the position of cinema is these days within this big new world of filmmakers and streaming platforms. The world is changing and I don't have any solutions, but I have some ideas and want to discuss them with people globally. Cinema is worldwide, so we need to move away from this idea of there just being a dialogue between Europe and America."
Fremaux added that Hong Kong was the obvious city to launch the initiative in Asia, due to the role it plays as a gateway to the wider region and also on account of its own strong cinematic tradition. Indeed, Hong Kong has a long history with Cannes, which is regarded as the most prestigious film festival in the world, while also having the biggest accompanying film market.
Several of Wong Kar Wai's films, including In The Mood For Love and 2046, have played in Cannes competition and he won best director at the festival in 1997 for Happy Together. The event has also embraced a number of Hong Kong's more commercial filmmakers, notably Johnnie To, whose action films are not in keeping with the traditional Cannes arthouse style, but who has had two films selected for Cannes competition – Election (2005) and Vengeance (2009).
Singling out his personal favourites from Hong Kong's cinematic back catalogue, Fremaux said: "I grew up watching the films of Bruce Lee, then later Johnnie To and Wong Kar Wai. I was also passionate about the films of John Woo – especially films like The Killer and Bullet In The Head. Although such movies are not a good fit with what Cannes is supposed to be all about, for me, he was clearly reinventing film noir. While he might not have been in line with the prevailing official taste, he was to my taste – and I'm certain I wasn't alone in that."
Commenting on the selection criteria for the films appearing throughout the course of the event, Fremaux said: "While an obvious contender would have been Korean director Bong Joon Ho's Parasite – which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes this year – the film has already been released in Hong Kong. Ultimately, we thought it would be better to screen some unknown or upcoming films, perhaps providing a boost for their Asian prospects."
While Cannes was previously said to be hoping that Hong Kong Film Week would become an annual event, Fremaux said a decision had yet be taken as to whether it would be repeated.
Hong Kong Film Week 2019 took place from 12-17 November at the K11 Musea.
Liz Shackleton, Special Correspondent, Hong Kong