City’s arts fundraiser withdraws grant from distributor of controversial documentary featuring violent clashes at a Hong Kong university in 2019 anti-government protests, with its president accusing the film of “embellishing the riots”.
Wilfred Wong Ying-wai, chairman of the Arts Development Council, told the To post funding for the coming year was over HK $ 700,000 (US $ 90,000) and the decision had been discussed by committees and board members.
Wong said the discrepancies between Ying E Chi Cinema’s initial proposals and the end result of his work was a factor, and specifically pointed to the company’s documentary. Inside the red brick wall, which recounts the 13-day standoff between police and protesters at the Polytechnic University.
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âEmbellishing the riots and expressing dissatisfaction with the current regime, especially in the face of today’s social sentiments, is part of the reason,â he said.
In a statement released by the statutory body on Friday evening, the council highlighted what it said was the negative effect of the films distributed by Ying E Chi, saying that the PolyU documentary in particular had raised concerns.
“[The council] made his decision based on Ying E Chi’s performance and the negative impact on society caused by the films he distributed. He thinks Ying E Chi is no longer worthy of the council’s annual grant, âhe said, adding that he was responsible to the government and for the public funds it issued.
The organization also said its funding approval procedures included assessing the impact of the recipient on the company during the review process.
While expressing respect for freedom of expression in the arts, the council also noted that the groups it funded did not necessarily represent its views.
In March, the pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao published a front-page report accusing the council of being run by “anti-government figures” who had awarded around HK $ 15 million to filmmakers sympathetic to the protest movement over the past three years. The newspaper claimed that the documentary violated the national security law.
The clashes depicted in the film occurred at the height of social unrest two years ago.
After more than 1,000 staunch protesters and their supporters – including teenagers – moved into the university grounds, hundreds of police locked the campus in a siege that lasted from November 17 to 29 and sometimes looked like to a war zone.
Protesters forced the nearby Cross-Harbor tunnel to close, set fire to walkways and the campus entrance, and set an armored police vehicle on fire. Police responded with tear gas and water cannons.
When Ta Kung Pao released its report, the council acknowledged the concerns and said it could exercise its right to postpone, adjust or suspend grant payments if grantees breach the terms and conditions of their agreements in any way. or, including advocating for Hong Kong independence or the overthrow of the government.
Last month, an article in Wen Wei Po also accused Ying E Chi Cinema of advocating both violence and independence through his films, including Lost in the smoke, which starred imprisoned activist Edward Leung Tin-kei.
The council’s decision signals another blow to the city’s creative and cultural industries, and comes just weeks after the government revised Film censorship guidelines to allow reviewers to ban films that violate Beijing-imposed law.
While Wong denied that the decision was related to security legislation, he said those who apply for funding in the future should comply with local laws.
In judging future grant applications, Wong said the arts council should determine whether a group is focusing on art, whether their work will have a negative effect on society, and whether they have broken any laws.
Established in 1998, the council’s annual grants program aims to provide strategic support and encourage small and medium-sized local arts groups towards artistic excellence.
Ying E Chi Cinema was originally awarded a three-year grant and received HK $ 768,200 in each of the previous two years.
Its artistic director, Vincent Chui Wan-shun, said he was not embarrassed by the decision after hearing the council’s statement on Friday and vowed the group would continue their work and screenings.
Chui admitted that he was concerned that Wong’s comments would give the impression that his organization was breaking the law, which could affect groups working with them in the future. But the statement, he said, largely allayed those fears.
âThe statement released later is very clear. It’s just that our films have had an impact, and this impact is considered bad in their eyesâ¦ On this subject, we will discuss further with them â, he added.
But a source familiar with the matter said the council discussed what it believed to be violations of certain agreements.
âThe contracts with the council specify the activities that the organization will organize. But in the end, there were revisions that board members weren’t aware of in advance, âthe source said.
The insider said council members discussed the matter, but added they may have “a bigger picture to consider.”