Roger Garcia, executive director of the Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF )
HONG KONG — Hong Kong-born, London-raised Roger Garcia continues his role as the executive director of the 37th Hong Kong International Film Festival. We talked with him about this year's event, which continues through April 2.
What is the goal of this year’s HKIFF?
Our festival began 37 years ago as a cultural event to bring movies to Hong Kong to show people films that they might not otherwise have seen. Nowadays, because you can download and watch anything — anytime, anywhere — we do two things. One is focus attention on movies which people may not have been aware of. Two, preserve going to the cinema. Movies are becoming a fairly solitary experience. We need to continue to celebrate and promote the idea of going to see movies in theaters because cinema is built for screens. Why watch “Lawrence of Arabia” on a 3-inch screen?
Another goal must be to promote Asian cinema...
Yes. The idea of the festival was to position Hong Kong as a hub of Asian cinema. We were the first international film festival in Asia. In 1979, we introduced a dedicated section for Asian films — which is the first time any [international] festival had done that. We were very important in saying that Asia is a continent where there are lots of interesting movies being made, which people rarely see.
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As the Chinese box office explodes, China is becoming a hub in its own right within Asia. Last year, James Cameron attended the second Beijing International Film Festival. How are new festivals in China posing a challenge to HKIFF?
We believe strongly in “one country, two systems.” We have freedom of expression in Hong Kong. We are allowed to show what we want. We put together a very heavily curated festival [and] we try to show a broad spectrum. It is a spectrum of films that really appeals to our audience. [The Beijing International Film Festival] has a great function and appeal because Beijing is now a center of the Chinese film industry and there is financing to be had there. Beijing has potential to be an industry-based type of festival. It is a different type of festival from what we want to do.
What other issues is HKIFF facing in the future?
What we need to do more is more audience building. Our festival is not an elitist event. This is a festival for everybody. In general we have fairly stable audience numbers of around 80,000 to 90,000. What I think is holding us back is the fact that we do not have a cinema complex or a place where there are a number of theaters [in one area]. That is what damages our ticket attendance.
We have discussed Asian film in general, but how does HKIFF promote Hong Kong cinema in particular?
Of course, we have been important for Hong Kong cinema. One of the things I often say is that we helped to promote international cinema in Hong Kong and overseas we helped to promote Hong Kong films. In 1978, we organized the first retrospective of Cantonese cinema of the 1950s. We showed that Hong Kong Cantonese cinema was worth looking at seriously, something to be valued, not just a cheap late-night or Saturday-morning filler on TV. A number of these prints had been rotting away in film cans.
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To finish, what films are you most excited about at this year’s HKIFF?
“Shoah,” the great documentary, a 9 1/2-hour movie about the Holocaust. We were helped by the Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Center — there is an interesting Jewish community in Hong Kong. I like the fact that we are showing the “Paradise” trilogy [“Paradise: Faith,” “Paradise: Hope,” “Paradise Love”], which will take place over one day. [The visual monograph] “Golden Gate Silver Light” is on a fascinating subject, Esther Eng. She was one of the few Chinese-American women making films in the U.S. — she directed Bruce Lee at 3 months old in “Golden Gate Girl.... She ended up as a restauranteur in New York. Our restored classics program is good, such as “Lawrence of Arabia.” Even though these works are available on DVD, the audience has really come out for it. I am always excited about showing things from the history of cinema.