Hongkongers are lost: Christopher Doyle reveals why he made Occupy film
Filmmaker hopes his Hong Kong Trilogy has captured the spirit of community that marked last year's protests, and which he sees as cause for optimism amid the current despondency
The Kowloon Bay studio that cinematographer Christopher Doyle works in has a view of the large red Megabox building nearby. He jokes that he wanted to be close to the shopping mall so that he can go ice skating, as it houses one of the biggest ice rinks in the city.
But aside from the puns around the movie Frozen, the reality is that this space he has occupied for almost two years has become a base that he hopes will help reinvigorate Hong Kong film. “We slowly got sick and tired of doing everything in China. We have to do something here,” he explains.
Doyle's latest movie - crowd-funded on Kickstarter - Hong Kong Trilogy: Preschooled Preoccupied Preposterous, had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, and will have its Hong Kong debut on September 28, the first anniversary of the launch of the Occupy Central protests.
The 63-year-old Australian-born director says he’s not nervous about the Hong Kong premiere, even though the movie, a labour of love, is about the city and its people, who he says, have spoken their minds.
He says Hong Kong Trilogy is an experimental film.
“We realised the Chinese title for the film is much better. Preschooled Preoccupied Preposterous were the wrong translations,” he says. “It’s actually Personal Political Poetic. You can change the order of the words depending how you feel about it. It has to be personal, it has to be political and it has to be poetic. You have to make a stand about who you are, and share it. It’s poetic, otherwise it’s dai wok – a big mess. That’s how life is.”
Over a year he and his producer Jenny Suen recorded interviews with hundreds of people, and chose a few of them from various age groups to appear in the film. Although the 90-minute movie is is three parts, the first focusing on primary-school pupils, the second young people, and the third old people, many of the characters’ lives intersect.
“We asked them to tell us about their life: ‘How do you feel about where you are?’ That’s what the film hopefully celebrates, how people are at this moment. We were surprised how despondent people were, how lost many people were. That’s why we had to make the film,” he says.
The first part of the trilogy was commissioned by the Hong Kong Film Festival and screened last year with other shorts. But when the Occupy protests began on September 28, 2014, Doyle was inspired to film the people protesting in Admiralty and include their ideas and thoughts, as well as those of the older generation, in a longer piece.
“If you look at the economy, [from the perspective of] the people graduating, that’s why the kids are in the street. They graduate from college and they can’t even afford to rent a flat, let alone buy a flat. They can’t leave their parents’ home because financially [they can’t afford it] even though they are highly educated,” Doyle says.
The film captures the "umbrella movement’s" sense of community, something the award-winning cinematographer says was very strong. “To me this is the community we always wanted. It wasn’t ‘occupy’. It was a city of young people who were sharing their time together, their aspirations, ridiculous ideas, talking together, celebrating being out in the open instead of being in a small corner of a room in their parents’ house… It was the strongest sense of community, [one] we all need. That is what Hong Kong has lost, and to me this is what we try to celebrate in the film.”
Although the movie seems whimsical at times – Doyle calls it poetic - he hopes Hong Kong Trilogy will make those who see it optimistic.
“The great pleasure and astonishing gift of art is to suggest the possible, to celebrate life,” he says. “I think that’s what it’s about. That’s why I make art. If we don’t suggest the possible, then everyone will tell you it’s not possible, society will drive you down so you’re another pawn in the game. The function of art is to celebrate life. Maybe we’re stupid, maybe it’s naïve, but that’s what we are.”
While Hong Kong's democracy movement in the political realm may have stalled for now, Doyle hopes the film contributes to the continuing conversation people are having about the city and the direction it’s heading in.
“I think [Hong Kong Trilogy] should be the Rocky Horror of Hong Kong cinema. It should be going every night with people who care about it continuing on this journey. It’s something to share. First of all, I didn’t make it. Hong Kong people made it. It’s not my film any more, it’s Hongkongers’ film. Five years from now I want people to say, ‘How come this film is still being shown?’”
Hong Kong Trilogy: Preschooled Preoccupied Preposterous will be screened September 28 at Broadway Cinematheque at 11am, 1pm, 3.50pm, 5.50pm and 7.50pm.