Cheung Chau stars in documentary festival

For a group of budding filmmakers, the island offers inspiration and lessons

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 September, 2014, 10:05am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 September, 2014, 2:21pm

For his first film Insects (2013), fledgling director Chui Chi-yin closely examined the lives of bugs on Cheung Chau. "I'm a city boy, so it was interesting observing insects," he says.

The piece was a result of an initiative called "Young Talent Training Camp" run by Visible Record to nurture new blood in the field; it was also part of Cheung Chau Diary 2013 featured in last year's Chinese Documentary Festival.

You can find a story in Cheung chau because the island has 30,000 inhabitants
Tammy Cheung, founder, chinese documentary festival 

In June, the 25-year-old returned to the island to take part once more in the training programme. This time around, while his subjects are just as fascinating, they are more communicable.

Chui's second documentary tries to gauge how long-time residents feel about the increased popularity of the outlying island as a holiday destination.

"Back in primary school I already heard this phrase," he says, referring to the title of his film, Too Many Cheung Chau Guests.

"I interviewed people on the street and some people answered honestly, others would have different reactions. It was a good exercise because I got to talk to people, many over 50 years old, whom I wouldn't normally talk to or even have reason to speak to."

Chui's short film is one of the 10 that comprise Cheung Chau Diary 2014, which will be screened at this year's Chinese Documentary Festival, opening on Sunday, along with more than 40 films.

This year, he and 22 other budding filmmakers teamed up with five experienced directors from Hong Kong, Taiwan and the mainland: Tammy Cheung Hung, Lee Jong-wang, Ying Liang, Lee Chia-hua and Augustine Lam Wai-hung.

All of them spent eight days and nights at the camp in Cheung Chau shooting, editing and sharing footage to learn more about documentary filmmaking as well as the island's inhabitants.

The camp's founder, film director and Chinese Documentary Festival founder Tammy Cheung, decided to bring the young filmmakers to Cheung Chau because she is a resident of the island and feels it meets their needs.

"You can find a story there because the island has 30,000 inhabitants," she says, adding the location also was ideal for practical reasons. "We needed a place for about 30 of us to camp and do our work, and we found a space on the hill and, when you go down, there are places to eat and it's by the beach, too, if people want to relax and swim - but I don't think people had much time to do that.

"If we did this in the city, then some participants might just go and sing karaoke, but in Cheung Chau they can focus. Places like Lamma have more foreigners than locals and [it] doesn't have the space to house the number of people we have in the camp."

Despite being a second-year training camp participant, Chui was still struggling with the structure for his short documentary weeks before the deadline.

"I need to improve because it's my second year so there's more pressure," says Chui, who is now freelancing after doing production for an advertising firm.

"But it is also about having luck and opportunities."

Christina Chan Yin-ming is attending the training camp - and making films - for the first time. For her documentary A Qilin Story of Two Generations, also part of Cheung Chau Diary 2014, she teamed up with Katie Chick Hiu-lai to profile a family that makes wildly colourful kirin, or mythical creatures, that are thought to be good luck omens.

"At first, I didn't know what to do and then a classmate gave me the story about this sifu," says thirty-something Chan.

"He welcomed us to film him and his family because the craft has been passed down for generations and now his son is learning it. Hong Kong has fewer and fewer people making these traditional crafts."

Like Chui, Chan was surprised by the welcoming responses of the Cheung Chau residents she interviewed.

"We filmed them for four or five days and they treated us like friends. They would invite us to stay for dinner, and that's when they would tell us more about their family history," Chan says.

Camp founder Cheung says while the participants enjoy filming their subjects, editing is the toughest part.

"Many of the films can be much shorter. Every evening, each group has to show what they've shot and edited and everyone, including supervisors, gives feedback," she says, adding that even if the shot is beautiful, if it adds nothing to the story it has to be cut.

The five experienced directors assisted in everything from filming to editing, and gave pointers on how to improve on their filming skills.

With a background in journalism, photography and an interest in wildlife, Chan found she needed to hone her filmmaking skills.

"I'm good with still images where you take one shot in time, but film is still new to me because you have to have a timeline," she says.

At the same time, she's also open about what needs improving on her part.

"I didn't really know what was going on, but I had to start shooting right away," Chan says. "At the beginning my footage was so shaky, but got better towards the end. It was a pretty intensive experience."

In putting her film together, Chan was initially faulted for giving it too much of a news-style treatment. Then she began to learn filmmaking involves a different kind of thinking.

As Chiu explains, film has its own language: for example, dissolving the scene implies a change of time, or the use of certain angles communicates particular meanings.

Chan admits she didn't watch many movies prior to the training camp, but veteran filmmaker Cheung believes reading is more important.

"Films are about telling stories, so they should read more novels, poems and songs."

In the end, Chan realises that she grew to appreciate her subject and that she is also interested in art, not just nature and wildlife.

"I'm looking at things differently," she says. "Like how to tell a story in a more visual way."

Cheung Chau Diary 2014 is part of the 2014 Chinese Documentary Festival that runs from Sept 7-Oct 4. For details, go to or call 2540 7859