From the Outside Looking in at HKIFF

Hong Kong International Film Festival

Being a first timer at the Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF), every new encounter heightens my curiosity and sense of wonderment. I am fascinated by everything, from the small, intuitive adjustments like a light sensor under the sink to alert water flow, to the low key manner and openness of celebrities, to the grandiose celebrity filled billboards and flat screen televisions lining the subways and high rises, keeping you in the know on the latest products, shows and activities. I am impressed and humbled by the great many achievements and technological advances outside of my egocentric U.S. home.

Even more impressive is the creativity, brilliance and efficiency of the people and businesses. The hub of the HKIFF is in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center (HKCEC) where there are thousands of audience members, staff, media, vendors and tourists constantly moving about. Yet, despite the many things happening at once, organized chaos was at its best, and it actually felt calm in there, compared to many other film festivals where people are shouting for order.

Every entrance and hall were aesthetically pleasing, decorated with large interactive billboard props and signs, and staffed by a friendly volunteer. Similar to the staff, the celebrities were just as approachable, without the barriers of excessive bodyguards and entourage as seen at some festival openings. They do not place a huge separation between the press from the celebrities, allowing the media to walk around and take pictures of directors, actors and other important film personnel -- or, maybe I just happen to get lost in the right area, as usual.

What blows my mind is how fast and efficient the restaurant staff can serve people without making a lot of service errors. In the US, it annoys me to see people waiting in line at a restaurant when there appears to be tons of empty tables. In Hong Kong, every table is filled, sometimes shared amongst guests. The drinks and food are served quickly and as ordered without a lot of fuss. Just as quickly as they get you in, they will ring you out with lightening fast calculator fingers. There is no room for error when the goal is to get you fed. I love it even if they do not ask you how good the food was.

Sure, there are certain flaws that never seemed go away in China and Hong Kong, but those are minimal compared to the positives. After a 14 hour flight to Hong Kong, my first stop was the airport restroom. I was next in line for an available bathroom stall when a late 40s Asian person burst into the restroom and grabbed the stall of the person walking out. That moment affirmed my landing in China/Hong Kong where lining up seemed like such a foreign concept to them.

Other confusions include cultural differences of what customer service means and how time is valued. One opening film did not start until almost 45 minutes later, forcing us to cancel our next event. In more touristy areas, like certain hotels, service is impeccable and extremely detail oriented. Stepping outside of that, into the streets and businesses of everyday Hong Kong, service is half there because you are expected to know the other half. When asking for information, the highly efficient people at information counters will point you to a destination, turn to the next person in line, and expect you to know the rest. Once you get there, someone will look at your paper and point you somewhere else or back to the original place. Eventually, after a couple of turns, you will reach the right place. Certain areas could use more signs separating “media” from “guests” so people are not pointed back and forth.

Aside from that, the films are fantastic, the people are approachable and friendly, and the creative and high-tech production value of the backdrops are amazing. I am hoping that HKIFF continues to be the bouncing board for Asian films and have it ricochet into more networks internationally.

(Photo: The opening ceremony with the stars from the opening films, The Midnight After and Aberdeen.)

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