• All stakeholders in Asia Pacific are expected to work together to fulfill the United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs) and “leave no one behind” in post-pandemic digital times, according to the 2020 Asia Economic and Entrepreneurship Summit. “The pandemic has highlighted that the government cannot do it alone,” said Maria Chin Abdullah, member of parliament for the Malaysian city of Petaling Jaya and former chairperson of the All Party Parliamentarians Group on SDG’s. We need a “whole society approach,” she said at a panel discussion during the summit in Kuala Lumpur. Jointly organized by the KSI Strategic Institute for Asia Pacific, the Pacific Basin Economic Council and China Daily Asia Pacific, the summit features speeches by two Malaysian ministers and four panel events focusing on “Growing Partnership for Inclusive, Innovative and Sustainable Growth’’. The SDGs, which were approved in 2015 by 193 UN member countries, form a blueprint meant to address the world’s most pressing problems by 2030. The 17 goals include the eradication of extreme poverty, halting deforestation, promoting gender equality, and reducing conflict. Maria said that many people understand and have experienced the effect of poverty, social inequality and water pollution. The pandemic has aggravated the impact of these social problems. She said this is why everyone, and not just the government, needs to know more and work towards meeting SDGs. “The SDGs affect us all. We can’t run away from it,” Maria said. Xiao Geng, chairman of Hong Kong Institution for International Finance, noted how COVID-19 is a “social cost issue. The market can’t solve it.” He cited China, which has mobilized both the central and local governments, allowing the country to curb the spread of the virus. He said China used social distancing and traditional health methods to stem the rise the number of infections. Xiao said that Asia in general has now become the center of global economy, with China contributing roughly 30 percent to the global GDP. “China is more confident in opening up its economy (as the center) of global economy is shifting towards Asia,” he said. Mia Mikic, director of the trade, investment and innovation division at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), noted said that there’s danger that Asia-Pacific countries will lose the gains that they made because of the pandemic. According to the UNESCAP’s SDG Progress report issued in March, the region has made significant progress in goals like cutting poverty and hunger incidence and promoting gender equality and decent work. The region, however, continues to struggle in advancing responsible consumption and production and climate action “We really have to know how to recoup (the progress that we made) and (ensure that the) whole initiative in sustainable development (won’t) be lost to (the pandemic),” Mikic said. She said all sectors need to change the way to address socio-economic problems. “We have to change the way we do business,” she said, noting the need to prioritize initiatives that ‘leave no one behind’. The call for change has been raised in other panel discussions that were held during the summit, with participants noting how the pandemic has profoundly changed the Asia-Pacific. Realizing the goals need international cooperation in the direction of helping and enriching each other, regardless of the religion, race and ideology, said Bishop Professor Dr Dennis Ng, chairman of the Institute of International harmony and Sustainable Development from Hong Kong. “If everyone is independent, sovereign, and can enrich mutually, our world can enter a more peaceful direction, that is, the direction of helping each other,” he said online. Rajiv Bjhatia, distinguished fellow of Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations, discussed about the Vulnerability, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA) that’s facing the region. “I would submit that COVID-19 has created a far graver disruption, with its disastrous impact on health, life, livelihoods and economies of countries around the globe. It has been depicted as ‘the greatest shock to the international system since the Second World War,’ he said. Bhatia highlighted the importance of the “Blue Economy” for economic development. “Its relevance has increased dramatically in the Covid-19 era of economic recession. Industry 4.0 technologies will need to be deployed to generate additional income sources for humankind. Our oceans offer immense potential, but their development needs to be undertaken sustainably, thus making it environment-friendly,” he said. Digital operations will help transform societies and overcome “information equality” in developing countries and even in more developed economies, according to panelists. Omna Sreeni-Ong, founder of ENGENDER Consultancy of Malaysia, shared her sessions with people in slum communities, seeing capacity in young members there, a strategic principle for achieving the United Nations sustainable development goals. “It’s about showing respect” to every community so that they can change and share the SDG issues, she said. At the panel of “Digital Asia Pacific – Connecting Markets & Opportunities Through Digitalization”, Dato Henry Goh, co-founder and chief operating officer at Macrokiosk Bhd, said infrastructure capacity building for the poor and in rural areas enables Malaysia to embrace the digital age. A similar story is going on in Negara Brunei Darussalam, according to Shazali Sulaiman, partner of Shazali & Partners from Brunei. The government owns key telecom assets to ensure everyone is connected, even in rural and remote areas. The move actually ends “Information poverty” that could be seen in some economies, he said. However, Shazali said there is still a need to fine tune the skills of youths and train people in various industries on digitalization. But from the perspective of companies, cooperation is more necessary and beneficial for different partners either in ASEAN, in China, in South Korea, Japan or the USA, said Goh. Dato Dr Chin Yew Sin, advisor for Asia Pacific region at the Global One Belt One Road Association, said though much backward for decades, China can utilize technology in innovative ways, and even allow its many groups to bypass development stages with digital economies. Chin is expecting China to be strong both economically and technology-wise in the next 10 to 15 years, as the people are innovative and eager to learn, and their students are strong in STEM factors. A similar path can be seen in Indonesia. Chin said as one of the E-7 economies which also include Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Russia and Turkey, can fare much better than average in the near future as one of their measures for Indonesia is to encourage students to get strong in STEM. Adam Yee, president and CEO of SIEMENS Malaysia Sdn Bhd, pointed out that there must be challenges in the journey toward digital transformation, and information security or cybersecurity is one of them. Feeling insure at connectivity is a hurdle for everyone, especially those who refuse online purchases and banking. Law enforcement on privacy protection in any economy is important for the authorities, Yee said. Another trend enabled unfortunately by the pandemic is working from home. It seems everyone should be able to work remotely in the future, and then there could be too much space at the office. Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria, Co-Chairman of CSO-SDG Alliance Malaysia, said in the end it’s not just dollars and cents, but “harmony and peace for not only us and our families, but also for generations to come”. Diplomats participated in discussions on the Indo-Pacific Outlook and Vision. “It’s about a rules-based order. It’s about ensuring that conflict and cooperation are managed in an agreed framework,” said Andrew Goledzinowski AM, High Commissioner of Australia to Malaysia. Charles Hay, High Commissioner of the United Kingdom to Malaysia, stressed the need to maintain free and fair trade. Hiroshi Oka, Ambassador of Japan to Malaysia, said it’s important to enhance connectivity in the international community. But that should go beyond building ports and railways to promote global trade. Oka said connectivity is also about building cross-border connections and encouraging more people to people exchanges. Contact the writers at
  • Increased cross-border cooperation and enhanced public-private partnership will help Asian economies to recover from the pandemic hit and innovate in new normal, according to speakers at a webinar based in Kuala Lumpur. In the unusual era of risks and opportunities, varied economies in Asia could enhance regional dialogues and strengthen economic recovery, environmental protection, employment and education, Tan Sri Michael Yeoh, president of KSI Strategic Institute for Asia Pacific, told the Asia Economic and Entrepreneurship Summit on Sept 8. The opening ceremony and panel discussions at the summit, hosted by KSI with a number of partners including China Daily, address growing partnership for inclusive, innovative and sustainable growth in the Asia Pacific. “Asian Pacific economies can learn from one another and share their experiences” to adapt to the new normal during and after the COVID-19 pandemic and transform, President Tan Sri Michael Yeoh said. Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, Malaysian Minister of Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives, in his keynote speech at the opening ceremony, injected hope by mapping out the country’s plan and path out of the crisis. The pandemic hit small and medium-sized businesses hard and brought about 58 percent of those businesses no sale at all for March and April. “To initiate another way of doing business is the key word of the government,” the minister told the participants both at the venue in the capital city and online. Currently a three-R approach, meaning relief, recovery and reform, is gaining momentum. The Malaysian authorities have provided assistance to SMEs in cash flow and give them breathing space. Over the past months employment is increasing, industrial productivity recovering, and retail sales and wholesales are growing, though more needs to be done to make up the earlier setback. However, “life will never be the same again,” he said. And the authorities are working together with local agencies and private businesses as well foreign partners to promote more local businesses, train local youths, seek solutions to empower others for innovation, increased production and wealth creation. The momentum can be carried along with Malaysia’s 2021-25 plan for social and economic progress, he said. Apart from existing global chain supplies, local Malaysian companies are teaming up with businesses from elsewhere including China on digital transformation as well. Michael Walsh, Chief Executive of Pacific Basin Economic Council, said at the ceremony that e-commerce can help adapt local businesses to the changes. He sees ASEAN emerging stronger from the crisis for sustainable growth. He noted that at a time when employment is at an urgent point, education and entrepreneurship come to the core for revival with environmental awareness. President Tan Sri Michael Yeoh reminded business and entrepreneurs for opportunities in startups and digital operations, online education, food supply and delivery among others. Dr Edon Woon, president, Asian Institute of Technology from Thailand, said higher education in Asia should be optimistic about their prospects as more talented students are choosing universities in the own region instead of going to Western nations while many in the Western institutions are returning home. Besides, he is looking forward to more intra-regional cooperation, especially what he calls complementary collaboration. Asia is a formidable economic region, with China taking the lead and ASEAN, India and Japan picking up, he said. Other panelists at the morning session noted China is driving regional growth by continuing to open up its economies and promoting its private businesses and market circulation. The duel circulations of domestic and international economies adopted recently by Beijing, with emphasis on the former, are creating more opportunities for businesses across the Asia Pacific. Afternoon sessions are discussing sustainable development goals, regional security, and digital Asia Pacific among other issues.
  • Malaysia is investing in technological development and innovation to help its micro, small and medium enterprises and businesses and operators in tourism, arts and culture sectors recover from the pandemic. Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, Malaysia’s Minister of Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives, said the Southeast Asian country is encouraging local businesses to embrace new technology and innovation in order to adapt to the ‘new normal’. “We have to accept life will never be the same after COVID-19. It pushes us to improvise and innovate,” the minister said in his keynote speech delivered at the 2020 Asia Economic and Entrepreneurship Summit on Sept 8. The one-day event, held in Kuala Lumpur, was jointly organized by the KSI Strategic Institute for Asia Pacific, the Pacific Basin Economic Council and China Daily. The minister cited the launching of the National Technology and Innovation Sandbox (NTIS), which is one of the ways for entrepreneurs to test new technology. He added that the government is also promoting technology entrepreneurship among Malaysian youth. Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin launched NTIS in August and offers a venue for researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs to test their products and services. NTIS extends grants to startups that aim to develop and commercialize new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, robotics and drone technology. The pandemic has shown that “innovative, inclusive and sustainable growth” can only be possible through partnership between the government and the private sector, said the minister. Malaysian telecommunication company Green Packet’s partnership with China’s technology giant Tencent as one example of a private sector’s initiative to promote innovation. Green Packet announced in August that it partnered with Tencent to set up a joint Internet data center in Malaysia. The cloud computing infrastructure is expected to go live in 2021. Moving forward, as Malaysia eases lockdown measures, adopting new technology is a way for local businesses to increase productivity and create wealth, he said. In her luncheon speech at the summit, Dato Sri Hajah Nancy Shukri, minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, pointed out that “innovation requires new concepts” and change now becomes a call of the era. Malaysia aspires to be a world-class tourist and cultural destination and to build national identity with arts, culture and heritage. As the first country to legalize e-hailing taxi business in 2017 with effective initiatives to push taxi labs and regulations, Malaysia has introduced robust incentives and plans to revitalize and fully recover the tourism industry by the second quarter of 2021, she said. Usually tourism is the first to be stricken by the pandemic but the last to recover due to border control measures. But Malaysia is aiming for sustainable tourism with incentives for homestays, hotels, resorts, tourism agencies, transport operators, recreation businesses and others in related sectors to provide local delights and true flavors, said the minister. The businesses are moving for fulfilling customer satisfaction in a relaxed environment with safety and health protocols but fresh air. Moreover hotels are offering favorable packages such as complementary third nights; digital operations have smoothened online booking and worked out E-craft bizarres which delighted tens of thousands of enthusiasts. MSMEs have long been a backbone of Southeast Asia’s third biggest economy. MSMEs accounted for nearly 39 percent of Malaysia’s Gross Domestic Product and employed over 7 million people in 2019. But these businesses were also among that suffered most during the pandemic, as lockdown and social distancing measures have disrupted the global supply chain, weakened consumer demand and reduced revenues. A 10-billion ringgit stimulus package launched in April includes wage subsidy program, loan moratorium and tax deferment and eased cash flow for the MSMEs. Malaysian GDP has been expanding annually by roughly five percent in the past few years. Tourism sector is among the start performers with 11 percent growth in 2019. But the pandemic halted this pace, with the GDP contracting by 17.1 percent in the second quarter. Contact the writer at
  • The creative sectors are among the most severely impacted by the pandemic. Cultural and art events are being postponed or cancelled worldwide. Film production has been halted and cinemas have been shuttered. The livelihoods of creative practitioners are imperiled as they are mostly self-employed or on short-term or project-based contracts. How can the creative industry restore confidence in audience to return to theaters? How to rebuild creative industry amid the COVID-19 pandemic in a sustainable way? To understand the sustainable ways to restore artists' livelihoods in the short and long term, China Daily Asia Leadership Roundtable organized a virtual roundtable with prominent speakers Mr. Albert LEE, executive director, Hong Kong International Film Festival Society; Mr. LOW Kee Hong, head of theater (performing arts), West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, Hong Kong SAR; Mr. TANG Fu Kuen, curator, Taipei Arts Festival; and Mr. Fred WANG, chairman, Salon Films (HK) Ltd. Mr. Teddy CHEN, producer and director, Sum-Wood Productions Ltd, shared his views on the topic in a pre-recorded video. Below are some of the key points they shared during the event: How the film festival and arts festival respond to the coronavirus crisis? Are there any amendments made?

 Albert LEE: Because of the COVID-19, Hong Kong International Film Festival had to be canceled for the first time in our history. We will try to actually schedule some screenings and some programs before the end of the year. But in the meantime, we have already started preparing for next year’s edition.

 TANG Fu Kuen: Taipei Arts Festival has been very blessed to be able to continue. All the theatres are opening at full capacity. We have created what we call a pandemic program that responds to the circumstances of non-travel. We are trying various kinds of models of working. Several of our shows are sold out. So, I think the audience is willing and hungry to come back.
 With social distancing and self-isolation becoming the new norm, how can the industry adapt to this “new normal” and keep business going?
 Albert LEE: Cinemas are in great difficulty at the moment because of reduced capacity owing to social distancing restrictions and all the stakeholders should work together to help the industry survive instead of relying solely on the government to bail it out of the crisis. The biggest expenditure of running a cinema in Hong Kong are the rentals, followed by staff salaries and film producers’ fees. Thus, a combined effort from everyone is needed to keep the cinemas afloat.

 LOW Kee Hong: The theater community has pushed the boundaries to try to engage the audience. What we’re doing is not just about a stopgap measure but, essentially, a combination of digital live (performances) and a presentation of other unusual platforms like gaming, and even analog space. Theaters around the world have demonstrated their creativity, introducing “pods” or “cubicles” accommodating four to five audience members to enjoy the show. There’re also drive-in cinemas, concerts and museums for visualizing exhibitions. 

TANG Fu Kuen: It is important to keep theaters’ physical spaces in use during a public health crisis, rather than just freezing all of them overnight. So long as theaters are running, it’ll keep the phase going. And it’ll still keep some livelihoods, some jobs and a sense of survival of the whole industry. How can the industry make good use of space amid the coronavirus crisis?

 LOW Kee Hong: I think while the health regulations are still in place, obviously within theaters where you have to deal with social distancing, we do have a lot of outdoor spaces. And this is perhaps one way in which we can also start to reimagine performances outdoors while embracing different restrictions that are in place.
 Fred WANG: The government has to take the lead. They should set up a good arrangement to have a good venue for the general public that not only allows them to enjoy the films, but also can be of multiple uses – for games, musical presentations or even for government lecturing and voting. What new opportunities can the film industry seize amid the pandemic? 
Albert LEE: All the new releases are on hold. So, I think there is certainly a good window for smaller local indie films. I don’t think that they will be excluded from any cinemas. But at the end of the day, it is a business. You have to look at the return. If the film, once it’s been released, if it’s being supported by the audience, it will get a run.

 Fred WANG: The film industry needed to try out new business models and observe whether the current environment can support these in a sustainable way. Even popular streaming platforms like Netflix are lacking in new content due to the pandemic. Content is king. Good content is needed before getting a mass distribution in the market. What is your view towards the rise of streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ etc? Is it good for the development of the film industry?
 Teddy CHEN: The rise of streaming platforms is not necessarily a bad thing. I welcome the idea of people viewing films on multiple platforms like cinema hall, home theatre, live-streaming platforms and on television. Can digital shows replace physical ones?
 Teddy CHEN: Watching movies in the cinema is a kind of social behavior. Despite having good audio electronics and a 100-foot screen at home, watching movies with few people at home can’t replace the experience of the cinema – where you share the joy with hundreds of people, and the intense atmosphere while watching thriller movies. The feelings are different.

 TANG Fu Kuen: We (Taipei Arts Festival) are very lucky as audience and artists are able to enter the theaters. I have rejected all kinds of online programs, which means that I resist this whole digital fatigue. Instead, we are combining the digital element with the performance in order to lift the overall quality.

 LOW Kee Hong: One of the big limitations of digital performance, obviously is that the performers cannot see the audience or cannot interact with them. I think the use of different types of newer modes of mediums, like Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, can point us to possible directions.

 Fred WANG: Nowadays, everything is digital. Films can be distributed in multiple languages, multiple formats and multiple locations. This really makes the film industry not just for entertainment, but also for changing our lifestyle. The industry itself today welcomes all sorts of new things with an open mind. However, none of these will become mainstream in a short period of time. You need a strong production company to make use of them and the infrastructure ready for distributing your programs. Then, you need a marketing team that can draw a lot of audiences to your programs. How can those in performing arts survive the pandemic? Any innovative ways to help their shows go on? 

LOW Kee Hong: Now is the time for us and the artists to discover more possibilities to maintain our presence. Meanwhile, we need to engage with different audiences continuously. In the longer term, we need to start thinking about different financial models. We need to rethink the choices of platforms and how we can monetize different platforms so that artists and staff can be paid fairly. It is really essential to acknowledge that art is not for free. TANG Fu Kuen: Some of the artists in the industry will remain sunk into melancholia for the better days of the past. They may not be able to cope with the future, while others will have the will and wisdom to move on. And they will be the ones who will renovate and innovate for survival. What is your forecast about the recovery of the creative industry? 

Teddy CHEN: The pandemic has had a big effect on the film industry and other industries. The audience can feel 100 percent safe to watch movies in the cinema only after the coronavirus vaccines are released for public use. Because cinema is a closed area, the customers may not feel 100 percent safe regarding the ventilation system.

 Albert LEE: The film industry needs three to four years for recovery. We need to recalibrate the entire industry and make changes in order to adapt to the “new normal”. It will be a long recovery process. I am concerned about the short-to-medium term development of the film industry. However, I am still hopeful about the prospects of the film industry in the long run.

 Fred WANG: I foresee a bright future for the film industry. The new blood will develop a new business models to support its future development. We should let the market try a lot of new things. The film industry should not only care about the quality of films and revenue earned. It should care more about how to bring up the whole population’s standard on the film appreciation so that the society can be a better one.

 TANG Fu Kuen: Let’s say we have not seen the fullest impact of COVID-19. If we are lucky, a vaccine should be found by the middle of next year. Then, hopefully, things can go back to the routine. But the question is: do we want to return to the old ways (of the performances)?
  • Hong Kong’s theater business has gone through a proactive model transformation, hoping to stay afloat amid the coronavirus pandemic, and the reopening of cinemas today after being shut for around six months is a day that’s long anticipated. When the theater drapes and stage curtains are raised again, it will thrill not only avid local movie fans, but also those in the creative industries. Industry leaders espoused their views at a webinar on Thursday, organized as part of the China Daily Leadership Roundtable’s Tipping Point series titled “Taking the show back to the theaters in the time of COVID-19”, in which key players share their thoughts on ways of restoring artistes’ livelihoods in the long and short term. Albert Lee, executive director of the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society, which organizes the annual Hong Kong International Film Festival, hailed the Hong Kong government’s decision to reopen cinemas that were forced to close as the third wave of COVID-19 infections struck the city, saying the organization is very reliant on screening revenues. The sad news is that this year’s 44th HKIFF has been put off by the pandemic. “It’s the first time in history the festival has been postponed,” he said. Engage the audience The stringent social distancing measures in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus have inflicted an indelible wound on the creative sector, with live performances scrapped or put on ice, and theaters shut. People in show business have borne the brunt of the scourge. On the bright sight, however, the creative business has leveraged its creativity and resilience, securing promising answers to the conundrum. The theater community has pushed the boundaries to try to engage the audience, said Low Kee-hong, head of theater (performing arts) of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority — Hong Kong’s world-class arts and culture hub. “What we’re doing is not just about a stopgap measure but, essentially, a combination of digital live (performances) and a presentation of other unusual platforms like gaming, and even analog space,” he said. Theaters around the world have demonstrated their creativity, introducing “pods” or “cubicles” accommodating four to five audience members to enjoy the show, said Low. “There’re also drive-in cinemas, concerts and museums for visualized exhibitions.” Tang Fu Kuen, curator of the Taipei Arts Festival, told the webinar that global performance producers are also inspired to experiment with multiple forms and formats, and a new medium of communication between artists and audiences. He highlighted the importance of keeping theaters’ physical spaces in use during a public health crisis, rather than just freezing all of them overnight. “So long as theaters are running, it’ll keep the phase going. And you’ll still keep some livelihoods, some jobs and a sense of survival of the whole industry.” Tang called on all governments to exert the will, and put in place a set of policies to protect these physical spaces. Make better use of theaters Fred Wang, chairman of pan-Asian facilities and movie services group Salon Films (Hong Kong) Ltd, believes the pandemic offers a good opportunity to rethink the question of how to make better use of well-located theaters, especially in a densely populated city like Hong Kong. Unlike 50 years ago, when opening theaters was seen as the main business for Hong Kong property developers, the theater business today is taking a back seat, he said. “But the general public should have a good venue that not only allows them to enjoy the films, but also can be multiple-purposed, whether it’s for games, musical presentations or even for government lecturing and voting,” said Wang, who founded the company in 1969 and had worked with various major Hollywood film and television companies in setting up projects in Asia. “Nowadays, everything is digital. Films can be distributed in multiple languages, multiple formats and multiple locations. This really makes the film industry not just for entertainment, but changing our whole lifestyle,” he said. The industry itself today welcomes all sorts of new things with an open mind. However, Wang pointed out that none of these will become “mainstream in the short time”. The sheer power of new technologies is only part of the story. “You also need a strong production company to make use of them and the infrastructure ready for distributing your program. Then, you need a marketing team that can draw a lot of audiences to see your program. “That’s why I said we should let the market try a lot of new things. But we also call for combined support from all parties that can sustain to essentially build up a new industry,” said Wang. Physical irreplaceable sophisticated technology has brought the virtual alternatives to a higher plane. The incorporation of virtual reality and augmented reality has more than emulated the physical viewing experience. It has enhanced it to be more immersive, interactive and individualized. And the experience is easily accessible from the comfort of home, without even stepping out of the house. Despite the immersive satisfaction and great ease, physical shows can never be substituted by the digital answers, said Hong Kong film director and producer Teddy Chen. He said there’s a nuance between watching a movie or performance in a physical venue and enjoying it virtually. The difference lies in the “social bond” created by social gatherings. “Young people like watching a movie together after work. … The movie provides a common topic for them to discuss, through which their relationship is getting closer.” Contact the writers at
  • Filmmakers are convinced that holding a film festival online will not work, although the coronavirus pandemic continues to hold back public activities, according to the head of the renowned Hong Kong International Film Festival. Albert Lee, executive director of the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society, believes that the beauty and charm of appreciating a film in a cinema can’t be replaced by online streaming. The HKIFF, which made its world debut in 1977, normally screens hundreds of movies from across 50 countries and regions within a space of two weeks annually. But as it marks its 44th anniversary this year, all such activities have been canceled due to the pandemic, while the competition’s judging process has been moved online. In an interview with China Daily, Lee said the HKIFFS had studied the possibility of moving the entire festival online, but no filmmaker agreed. The moviemakers produce films for the big screen, using plenty of time and financial resources — some are Hong Kong or even international premieres. It just doesn’t work for them to have an online film festival, Lee explained. Despite the convenience of watching a film at home in front of a TV set, or simply on an iPhone, what the HKIFFS is trying to promote is film as an art form in a cinema, as well as the experience of appreciating a film in a cinema with hundreds of other people, he said. However, the organization does not own any screening facility, so the festival has to rely completely on screening venues. Because of the pandemic, the HKIFFS has lost box office income as well as sponsorships. The contracts of about 40 young temporary employees have also been affected, Lee said. But it will still be hard to evaluate how much the organization has lost financially until the end of the year, he said. Nevertheless, Lee noted that compared to filmmakers and distributors, a film festival is probably the least affected in the ecosystem as it can always go back to showing classic films from the past. On the other hand, the COVID-19 outbreak in Hong Kong has pushed the HKIFFS to improve its operations faster. These include scaling down the number of screening venues each year and concentrating most of them in the Tsim Sha Tsui area to make it easier for people to move from one movie to another, Lee introduced. If the Hong Kong government continues to enforce social distancing measures in theaters next year, the HKIFFS will no longer be able to stick to its free-seating policy, but to adjust the ticketing systems by assigning seats for each screening. Lee said if that’s the case, it would be a big technical challenge, as the film festival programs some 200 films among more than 300 screenings in two weeks. With the pandemic unlikely to go away in the short term, he stressed that the movie industry has to cooperate and figure out ways to readjust itself with all the social distancing measures in place. The industry is new, with a history of less than 150 years, and is always evolving and innovating, said Lee. New things are being added, such as televisions, videos and, now, online streaming platforms. Even so, the global film industry made a record-breaking $100 billion last year, according to a report by the US-based Motion Picture Association. Despite the hindrances and temporary shutdowns, Lee believes the theatrical industry will not fade away.
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