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How Short Films Became Hong Kong’s Director Fast Track


WORDS: Kevin Ma

The road to becoming a filmmaker in the Hong Kong film industry has traditionally been long and arduous. Aspiring filmmakers usually started low – on television or film sets – taking years to prove themselves before earning the trust of investors and a seat in the director’s chair. Films were expensive ventures, and the responsibility for making them couldn’t possibly be placed in the hands of amateurs.

But times change. Digitally technology came along, film reels were replaced with digital tapes and then hard drives, and anyone who could afford to rent a consumer camera could call up a few friends and put together a movie at a fraction of the cost. 

In this, there was opportunity. In 2005, director Johnnie To and the Hong Kong Arts Development Council founded the Fresh Wave International Short Film Festival, a competition that provided funding for young filmmakers to produce 30-minute short films. Since its inception, many of its prizewinners have used their experiences as a fast track into the film industry.

This year, there were 25 directors eligible for the best new director category of the Hong Kong Film Awards – a number that was unimaginable just a few years ago. Two of the three major award winners were part of the government’s First Film Initiative, which funds low-budget feature-length films for first-time directors. The third film – Trivisa – was made by three Fresh Wave alumni.

“Like their predecessors, these aspiring filmmakers still had to earn their way to direct commercial films, but the road has become considerably shorter, largely thanks for the experience and CV afforded by these films.”

On the back of Fresh Wave’s success has come the Microfilm Production Support Scheme, another government-funded initiative for young filmmakers. Organised by the Hong Kong Association of Interactive Marketing and supported by Create Hong Kong, the music division of the scheme provides funding for local advertising start-up companies and their young directors to make short films in collaboration with local record labels.

In September, four award-winning films of the latest edition of the Microfilm Production Support Scheme come to ArtisTree as part of the Life is Art pop-up cinema.

There’s Reflexion_Reflection, the winner of the most popular microfilm award, a moving story of a young man who wants to follow in his late father’s footsteps and become a professional photographer. Kellyjackie, the bronze prizewinner for best actress, proves that she’s more than just a pop singer in Erica, a film that depicts the lonely inner life of one Hong Kong woman using an audacious seven-minute shot. In Blind Spot, Terry Zou stars as an office worker who gets a lesson in empathy and understanding when he suspects that his desk has been vandalised. And in the quietly stirring drama Second Hand Bookstore, Eros Tsang plays an introverted bookstore clerk who finally finds the motivation to open up.

The ArtisTree series isn’t just a chance to catch these award-winning films, though: you may be watching the humble beginnings of the next Johnnie To or Wong Kar-wai. 

Microfilm Production Support Scheme shows on 8 and 15 September at 1pm as part of the Life is Art pop-up cinema at ArtisTree. More details here.


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