WWhen the DVD came back broken, it was like a sign. The creators of the Hong Kong protest documentary Inside the Red Brick Wall sent it to regulators for screening approval, as they had done several times before without a hitch. But this time the return envelope was filled with shards of silver.
“We didn’t understand why, but it was intentional,” says one of the anonymous creators. “They said it was broken by the DVD machine but it was intentional – it came back to pieces. It was intentional, like they were sending a message.
The screening was approved, but with a higher rating limiting audiences to those aged 18 and over. But the moment marked an important change.
A few months later, in March, the room that hosted the first commercial screening of the protest film canceled that day. Next, the government-backed funding body, the Arts Development Council of Hong Kong, would have withdrew a large grant from the independent film collective that had released it.
The incidents underscore the authorities’ growing intolerance of anything to do with the pro-democracy movement, which rocked the city for much of 2019. In June 2020, Beijing imposed its National Security Law that vaguely criminalized the acts of foreign collusion, sedition, secession or terrorism. . Since then, the police have used it to arrest hundreds of journalists, politicians, activists and activists, and to make the sale of particular books, works of art and films risky.
“Clear political censorship”
Last Wednesday, the Hong Kong parliament making politically sensitive criminalized films, with a law authorizing broad censorship under the guise of national security. The new law bans all films which the government says could “endorse, support, glorify, encourage and incite activities that could endanger national security” and allows the authorities to stop productions and screenings. Any unauthorized showing of a banned film could incur three years in prison for those responsible, or a fine of $ 1 million.
“The objective is very clear: it is to improve the film censorship system, to prevent any act endangering national security,” Commerce Secretary Edward Yau told the Legislative Council.
Kenny Ng, associate professor at the Academy of Film at Hong Kong Baptist University, told Reuters the bill was “heavy”. “Adding national security clauses to the bill is clear political censorship,” he said.
The law’s obvious targets are the scramble of protest documentaries released over the past 12 months. The documentaries show some of the protest movement’s most violent moments and follow individuals, some of whom were later arrested. Many were made by anonymous teams of like-minded people who met while filming on the frontline of the protests and were inspired to tell a story deeper than the international media.
“I think that’s when I personally thought it was the moment when we should start doing what a documentary maker should do,” said Iris Kwong, one of the seven directors behind When A City Rises, which screened at Brisbane International Film. Party on weekends.
“[Before then] I wasn’t going to do any movies on the move because it was something I felt the whole world was going in already, so maybe I didn’t need to. It was a time when I just wanted to be with the rest of the city in this social movement.
Several filmmakers told The Guardian that the new law does not affect them much more than the National Security Law already does. Some have already been to the ground, working anonymously, while others have fled Hong Kong.
“Risks for everyone involved”
According to many, the biggest impact of the new censorship law will be on Hong Kong’s status as an international cinema hub and on the city’s rich catalog of praised, thoughtful and often political films. Last week’s law allows Hong Kong security chief John Lee Ka-chiu to ban the showing of existing films if he believes they threaten national security. The film most often cited as a likely target is the 2015 film, 10 Years Old, A Dystopian and rather prophetic imagination of Hong Kong’s future, but there are many more.
“We have so many films critical of governments, especially before 1997 when we were still a British colony,” says filmmaker Inside the Red Brick Wall.
“It was okay to criticize the Chinese government at the time and a lot of our famous and iconic films are from before or around this time. So it would be a huge thing if they decided to ban those films as well. because they are culturally very important. ”
Many local productions were already in commercial partnerships with mainland Chinese companies, and there had been a tendency to conform to mainland sensibilities, some of the filmmakers note. But what was once a question of resources is now a question of law.
“With Hong Kong being a hub for filmmaking, and most of which are very expensive to make, if your film gets pulled, it’s really bad,” Kwong said. “So I think what will happen is that the impact of this law will mean more self-censorship for non-political films.”
Interior of red brick wall director says, even in hindsight, that she and her team would still have made their movie.
When A City Rises won’t be screened in Hong Kong because “there are risks for everyone involved,” Kwong says, but it will be screened in Australia and several European countries in the coming months. Kwong hopes the film will help global audiences understand what happened in Hong Kong.
“I think with all the social movements in the world, there is often not a ton that people can do, but what’s worse is when people don’t know it’s happening.”