Magazine article Screen International

HKIFF: New Director on His Ambitious Plans for the Hong Kong Film Festival

Magazine article Screen International

HKIFF: New Director on His Ambitious Plans for the Hong Kong Film Festival

Article excerpt

New executive director Albert Lee remains optimistic about Hong Kong cinema’s future.

Despite having four decades of industry experience under his belt, Albert Lee, the new executive director of Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF), admits that nothing in his past could possibly have prepared him for this new role.

“The challenges are quite different,” says the former Emperor Motion Pictures CEO of the HKIFF job. “I’ve attended many film festivals over the years, but I never thought that I would one day be running one. If I discount my brief tenure as director of the ill-fated HAF [Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum] in 2003, which was cancelled at the last minute because of SARS, it is my first time working at a festival.”

Lee’s film career started at Hong Kong studio Golden Harvest during the golden age of Hong Kong cinema through the 1980s and into the 1990s, spending two decades producing and distributing films worldwide. He joined Emperor Motion Pictures in 2003, producing more than 20 films during his 15-year tenure.

Lee took up his post at HKIFF last November, taking over from Roger Garcia who held the position from 2010-18. A number of Lee’s key colleagues are also new to their positions, including head of programming Geoffrey Wong, head of marketing Catherine Liu and operations manager Billy Cheng. Their collective focus, says Lee, has been to ensure the 43rd edition has a smooth transition from previous years.

One crisis hit early with the February closure of The Grand Cinema — a key HKIFF venue accounting for a quarter of its screening slots. Fortunately an agreement has been made with the cinema’s new operator Broadway Circuit, which took over the lease, that enables the festival to keep The Grand Cinema as its major screening venue.

Despite being resolved, the scare underlines the importance for HKIFF of finding a permanent home — a long-term objective that Lee hopes will be achieved by the time the festival celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2026. “Most established film festivals would have a focal point, like the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto and the Busan Cinema Center in Busan,” he says. “The Hong Kong Philharmonic would probably call the Cultural Centre its home and now there’s even a Xiqu Centre for all forms of Chinese operas. On the contrary, Hong Kong cinema does not have one.”

Opening salvo

HKIFF will open on March 18 with Bodies At Rest, a Cantonese-language action thriller starring Nick Cheung and Richie Jen, directed by Die Hard 2’s Renny Harlin. The Media Asia co-production is the only Hong Kong film to receive its world premiere at this year’s HKIFF (compared to none in 2018), while the Hong Kong Panorama strand has been pared down to six titles this year.

“HKIFF has come a long way since its inaugural edition in 1977. During this time, the fortune of Hong Kong cinema has ebbed and flowed,” says Lee, who nonetheless remains optimistic. “Hong Kong cinema reached its nadir a few years ago. With the emergence of a new and younger generation of local filmmakers such as Oliver Chan, Jun Li, Lee Cheuk Pan and Sunny Chan, it’s slowly on its way back. Things are certainly looking brighter.”

Also featured in this year’s HKIFF line-up are First Night Nerves, Hong Kong New Wave director Stanley Kwan’s first feature in almost a decade, which will receive a gala premiere, and a collection by local animator Wong Ping including three of his most recent shorts, International Film Festival Rotterdam prize-winner Fables 1 among them.

This year’s Filmmaker in Focus is multi-hyphenate Hong Kong action icon Sammo Hung, who will conduct a seminar while his various roles as actor, director, producer, stuntman and choreographer are screened in a 10-film retrospective. …

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