Two young filmmakers behind new documentary When a City Rises – which archives 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong – speak to SkyNews.com.au about pervasive fear in their hometown as China continues its crackdown freedom of expression and civil liberties.
Two filmmakers behind the new documentary When a City Rises – which archives pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong of 2019 – speak to Skynews.com.au about the pervasive fear in their hometown as China continues its crackdown on freedom of expression and civil liberties.
Wang Wenbin is one of the three spokespersons for the Chinese Foreign Ministry. Along with Hua Chunying and Zhao Lijian – the most infamous of the trio – Wang answers questions from reporters during almost daily Foreign Ministry press conferences.
Those who follow these forums are used to double talk and obfuscation, attacks on major detractors and rivals of China, and the spread of the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”.
At a press conference last week, Wang Wenbin said, âI would like to point out that since the promulgation and implementation of the Hong Kong National Security Law, the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong are better protected.
“Hong Kong citizens, international investors and people working in various industries have all witnessed a brand new Hong Kong and have become more confident in its future.”
This rosy record, and the assertion of facts that are often directly opposed to reality, is as regular as it is worrying.
In the case of Hong Kong, Wang’s claims – like those made about Taiwan and Xinjiang – are belied by the facts.
Since the protests in Hong Kong of 2019 and 2020, China has increasingly cracked down on “human rights and freedoms,” as companies and individuals working in “various industries” have started to withdraw from the old one. British colony.
The National Security Law, mentioned by Wang Wenbin, was imposed by an increasingly assertive China on its most turbulent city last year.
And now, after massive resignations from its pro-democracy camp, the Hong Kong legislature has no opposition lawmakers.
Most politicians – as well as activists – have been jailed, either under the new law or for other alleged crimes.
Others have fled into exile.
It was this flawed legislature that, on October 27, adopted new amendments to the Film Censorship Bill authorizing film censorship to âpreserve national securityâ.
Critics argue it will crush Hong Kong’s world-famous film industry and further curtail freedoms in the city.
Iris Kwong and Ip Kar Man (their real names) are two Hong Kong filmmakers familiar with this “new” Hong Kong.
The duo, with Cathy Chu, Han Yan Yuen, Huang Yuk-kwok, Jenn Lee and Evie Cheung, form a team of seven filmmakers – some of whom are also film producers, editors and journalists – behind When a City Rises, a documentary that tells the story of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019.
The film, presented at this year’s Sydney Film Festival, tells the story of protest and resistance through the eyes of four main characters.
Tan is a “frontline” involved in clashes with the police where he faces tear gas and water cannons.
William is a “peaceful protester” who fights the physical conflict involved in the protests and tries to stay “away”.
Eve is a dedicated law student, helping by outfitting phones and providing legal advice to those involved in the protest.
Finally, there’s MJ, an âinterestedâ teenager who is afraid of being arrested and what his involvement in the movement will mean for his future.
Kwong and Kar Man spoke to Skynews.com.au about the pervasive fear that has gripped Hong Kong, friends who have had to flee as a result of protests, media crackdown and rewriting history in children’s textbooks. .
They also spoke of their continued hope despite China’s growing control over their hometown.
Kwong is a filmmaker who “usually makes short films” but also works in interactive VR while Kar Man is a journalist, filmmaker and video producer.
None of the young women knew each other before the protests. They met on the street through a mutual friend and eventually put the seven filmmakers in touch.
âIt was such a chaotic time in 2019.â Kwong said. âI think some of us were already on this street shoot. Whether for foreign media or for our own documentation.
“There were also some of us who were just there to watch because we didn’t know what to do, then I think a common person between us all kind of pulled us closer and said we should document this, âshe said. .
Both were motivated by a desire to show parts of the protests that the foreign media had missed.
âThis is really news and they don’t really describe the behind the scenes of what the protesters really think or feel,â said Kar Man.
“And so we decided that we were just going to go out with our cameras and that was pretty much other plans at the start, and we just went on and on and on talking about how everything was progressing.”
The seven filmmakers had always planned to make a feature-length documentary, but with the protests constantly unfolding, they didn’t have time to wade through all of their footage until the relative calm brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
âIt wasn’t until the pandemic started and we really had time to come together and look at what we have and what story we can tell,â said Kar Man.
Kwong and Kar Man didn’t know the film’s four main characters before the protests, and their evolution to the limelight was organic.
âYes, it was more characters, but of course, in the process, there were characters that fell.
âThere were characters that were newly added and then we had to choose from the edit,â Kwong said.
The two filmmakers fear the Hong Kong authorities because of their involvement in When a City Rises, but point to the bravery of those who appeared in the film.
âI think something we always talk about among ourselves is how brave our subjects are. The characters in our movie, even from the start when everyone was covered and messed up, they were willing to let us follow them into their homes, into their rooms, âKwong said.
âThey knew the importance of telling the story from the start right from the start and after the National Security Act.
“A lot of times the spotlight is on the filmmakers, but our subjects also come with enormous risk and I think that’s something that is often overlooked in the conversation.”
Although the film is screened at various international film festivals, it will not be screened in Hong Kong.
âNow they’re just imposing this law just to make it more practical to ban anything they don’t like. They don’t like to talk about the 2019 movement anymore, in any way.
âSo this is the new world for Hong Kong filmmakers, that you can’t talk about anything political,â Kar Man said.
Kwong says this censorship goes beyond legal restrictions.
â(The filmmakers) should think; if we want our work to be shownâ¦ what should we avoid? Because Hong Kong, as a commercial city, any kind of commercial place would not allow anything sensitive to be shown.
âThe pressure would be felt at all levels of the expression ecosystem.
The filmmakers, however, believe it is more important that the film be screened abroad.
âI think as our history is being actively rewritten here in Hong Kong, we need the truth to be there.
âWe want as many people as possible to see this story and remember that it happened in this small town and that the story is not just about Hong Kong.
âIt’s about democracy. It’s about young people standing up against unfathomable powers and I think it’s a reflection of many other places, and we believe in that resonance in the world, so it’s not just for Hong Kong people. It’s up to us to tell our story to the world.
Participation in the protest movement had very real effects on the film’s four main characters and added to the filmmakers’ desire for When a City Rises to be seen.
âWe want people to watch our film. We want people to really hear about our characters because two of them are in jail and two of them are facing a lot of pressure, âKwong said.
âThey risked a lot to be in this movie. MJ and Tan – they’re in jail now. They won’t come out for a few years, âadded Kar Man.
The new situation in Hong Kong in general deeply worries the pair.
âIt almost seems like it happened overnight. I think the reason I said overnight was because last year we would be getting several news, sometimes daily, weekly, of things falling apart.
âAnd when I say things, I mean the pillars of what makes our city special. What makes it democratic. The pillars of justice, education, the press, art, civil society and we get news every week about another falling coin.
âAnd so when you watch something fall apart like that, you feel like it all happened really quickly,â Kwong said.
“I don’t know yet if this is the worst, but it feels like it just gets worse every day,” added Kar Man.
Despite this, the two women remain timidly optimistic.
âI mean there was resistance in different places last year where we saw people trying to create a yellow economy by supporting each other, keeping values ââstrong.
The Yellow Economy is a system for classifying Hong Kong businesses based on their support for or against protesters. Supporters of the system patronize the yellow shops – those who support the protests – while boycotting the blue shops – those who support the Hong Kong police.
âAnd this year. I mean, maybe you would see people trying to archive the story, like with entire news organizations going down. I think people put a lot of work into archiving our story, âKwong said.
âI think if we look at the history (of Hong Kong), I think anything can happen. So I think that’s what we’re living with right now.
WHEN A CITY RISES premieres at the Sydney Film Festival from November 9 and on demand via the festival from November 12 to 21