Eye On Asia

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I had the good fortune to attend the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) for the official launch of the Alliance of Asia-Pacific Audiovisual Writers and Directors (AAPA) last week. Guild president Howard Taylor signed the MOU for DEGNZ’s participation in this alliance in Tokyo in May.

AAPA is dedicated to serving as an independent and impartial advocate on behalf of the audiovisual creators community in the Asia-Pacific region and seeking to strengthen copyright protection.

Already we are benefitting from belonging to this Alliance with considerable support coming from Writers & Directors Worldwide (W & DW) and the International Federation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC), under whose umbrellas the Alliance sits.

Present at BIFF were two guild members with their films: David Stubbs with his feature Daffodils, and Sam Kelly with Savage, which had its world premiere in Busan. It has been a while since a New Zealand feature was selected for BIFF, so it’s quite a coup to have two here. Congratulations to David and Sam for their achievements in getting their features into what is arguably still the most prestigious film festival in Asia.

While there, I took the opportunity to look at the feature film projects being pitched from around the Asian region, both by young emerging filmmakers and those more established. It was interesting to note the similarities and differences between what is happening across Asia and in New Zealand.

One of the first things that struck me was that like many aspiring New Zealand writer/directors, many Asian writer/directors expect to write a script from their treatment and have it move into production within one year. The average time for a film to move from initial idea to completion (if it does get made) in New Zealand and Australia is five to seven years. Case in point is Sam Kelly’s film Savage, which spent over six years in development. I asked Professor Darcy Parquet, who lectures in Korean film at the Busan Asian Film School, if in Asia it was unrealistic to expect such rapid progression. He agreed that it was.

Budgets also vary considerably. In speaking to one Japanese producer, I was told that indie film budgets in Japan typically sit in the range of US$30,000 – 300,000. Korea is a highly commercial market where indie films struggle as they do in Japan. Korean independent films have slightly higher indie budgets than Japan, but nowhere near the typical US$5 million budget a Korean commercial film gets. Elsewhere in Asia, indie film budgets seem to range from US$200,000 to US$600,000 – 750,000. An important consideration to remember is that there is not a lot of government support for film around Asia, unlike in New Zealand and Australia.

We are certainly not alone in wanting to tell dark dramas. In a number of pitches I heard, cancer and suicide featured frequently and there were quite a few tough films wanting to be told. This was balanced by genre or genre hybrid projects—a reflection I believe of the lower budgets, lack of government funding and a need to get returns for investors, as well as a desire to tell more genre stories.

Highly obvious at the Asian Film Market that sits alongside BIFF is the European presence. Many European organisations and producers are seeking to strengthen ties with Asia for co-production, which is the mainstay of the European film industry. There is also a fascination with Asia and its stories. Europeans, who are masters of co-production and have access to a variety of soft-funding sources, are searching out talented Asian filmmakers with strong stories to support. It’s such a pity that co-production in New Zealand and Australia is so limited by both attitudes and resources, as well as isolated by geographic distance. New Zealand has co-production agreements with South Korea, Singapore, China and Taiwan, but these are rarely used.

I’d have to say that I’ve never before met as many film festival programmers from other festivals before as I met here. That can probably be attributed to the fact that it’s a smaller market than others I’ve been lucky enough to attend. I think, however, that it’s another sign of the European interest in the region.

Streamers are having the same impact in Asia as is happening elsewhere, with the future of indie film still very uncertain. SVOD still hasn’t picked up the slack that DVDs used to bring in terms of revenue. That doesn’t seem to have slowed the Asian passion for indie features though. Everyone still seems to be rushing forward. But nobody it would seem is yet sure if it’s towards oblivion or a brighter future.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director