HKIFF at 40

in 40th Hong Kong International Film Festival

by Stephen Teo

The Hong Kong International Film Festival of 2016 unfolded its fortieth edition from 21 March to 4 April with more than 200 films shown in venues spread out all over Hong Kong (from the New Territories to Hong Kong Island). Thus, on its fortieth anniversary, the festival demonstrated its ability to maintain its relevance to the city as perhaps the premier art and cultural event of the territory. It shored up its reputation for cinematic diversity and quality under a spirit of independent programming and administration—the festival having now established itself as an independently-run entity from its original status when it was completely managed by the government for some 28 years before it became “privatized” in 2004.

HKIFF began life as a purely cinephilic festival but it became competitive when it became independent, one of the signs of its fully grown-up development, one might say. In addition to the Fipresci Prize, there were four other juries deliberating on HKIFF40. The categories were the Young Cinema Competition, the Documentary Competition, the Signis Award, and the Short Film Competition. With the exception of the Fipresci jury (which awarded only one main prize), all the other competition categories awarded either the special mention or the jury prize in addition to the main prizes. The main competition category is the Young Cinema Prize (named the Firebird Prize), which was awarded to newcomer director Zhang Hanyi’s debut film Life After Life (Zhifan maoye), with a Jury Prize going to Austrian director Händl Klaus’s Tomcat (Kater). The films in the Young Cinema competition, some of which also overlapped with the selections for the Fipresci Prize, reflected the strong diversity and range of modern cinema, and covered themes of development and the need for more social understanding and tolerance in developing countries such as Mongolia, Saudi Arabia, Ghana, southern Thailand, and deep in the provinces of China. The young filmmakers (most of whom were doing either their debut films or into their second works) showed a sense of maturity in their handling of content as well as in technique.

The nostalgia factor inherent in the fortieth anniversary of HKIFF was also reinforced in several of the programming sections. For example, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death was marked in a programme devoted to the cinematic adaptations of the playwright’s Macbeth. A retrospective was dedicated to the restorations of Bruce Lee’s films made in Hong Kong; and the works of Wong Kar-wai were given a retrospective reconsideration under a section celebrating 25 years of Jet Tone (under the title “In the Mood for Films”). Jet Tone is the production company established by Wong to produce his films as well as the films of others, such as Jeff Lau’s The Eagle Shooting Heroes (Shediao yingxiong zhuan zhi dongcheng xijiu, 1993), Eric Kot’s First Love: The Litter on the Breeze (Chuchan lianhou de erren shijie, 1997), and Cheng Hsiao-tse’s Miao Miao (2008). Wong’s own films remained attractive and appealing to the audience, suggesting that the nostalgic factor in the director’s works is far from a spent force. In a sense, this mirrored the resilience and reenergizing dynamic of HKIFF itself as it looked back on forty years of providing festival fodder to a Hong Kong citizenry that has not lost its love of cinema.

Stephen Teo