Documentary makers struggling in money-obsessed HK, says Oscar winner Ruby Yang

Makers of short films struggle to develop their craft in a society preoccupied with the bottom line, Oscar winner laments

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 November, 2013, 4:21am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 November, 2013, 11:41am

Hong Kong's preoccupation with making money is stifling documentary-making in the city, an Oscar-winning documentary director says.

"The whole society is about commerce or how much money you can earn, but making documentaries doesn't make money," Hong Kong-born filmmaker Ruby Yang said.

"The good thing about Hong Kong is there's no censorship, you can film whatever you want. But why there are so few documentaries?"

Yang grew up in Hong Kong but moved to the US with her family in 1977, where she studied painting, then film.

She loves making documentaries because she believes they can have a positive impact on society.

In 2006, her The Blood of Yingzhou District won an Oscar in the short documentary category. It tells the stories of a toddler who contracts HIV from his parents and a young orphan who lives with her sister in a remote village in Anhui province.

"Hong Kong may have fewer topics for documentaries due to its small geographical size but it does not lack filmmakers who can make good documentaries," Yang said.

But it had only a handful of independent documentary makers who were able to make a living from their craft.

"Many of them have to take freelance jobs and only get to work on their documentaries in their spare time," she said.

Yang urged the government or the Arts Development Council to set up a fund dedicated to documentary-making.

At a minimum, they could provide free venues, such as community halls, where screenings of documentaries could be held. "Rents are very high in Hong Kong, so showing documentaries in commercial theatres is almost impossible," she said.

Yang said society would benefit from promoting the making and watching of documentaries. "Watching documentaries is like looking in the mirror. Good documentaries can tell our history and our culture," she said.

Citing New York as an example, Yang said it was also hard to show documentaries in commercial cinemas in that city because of costs constraints. Documentary supporters there had set up some cinemas that were dedicated to promoting the art form.

To promote documentary culture in Hong Kong, CNEX cinema will screen Yang's Oscar-winning documentary and her Oscar-nominated The Warriors of Qiugang at 8pm today at Broadway Cinematheque in Yau Ma Tei.

Now a distinguished fellow in humanities at the University of Hong Kong, Yang is planning a project about the neighbourhood of Sai Wan in Western District, in which her students would make a "collective portrait of the community".

"The community is changing fast," she said. "In 10 years time, things we now take for granted in Sai Wan may disappear."

Video: Trailer for the Warriors of Qiugang