Occupy Central

Hong Kong cinemas won’t show Occupy documentary, filmmaker fears

Raise The Umbrellas director Evans Chan says city cinemas worry how Beijing will react after state-run media’s criticism of dystopian Ten Years, but insists he is neutral and sought to make film even-handed

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 November, 2016, 12:45pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 November, 2016, 1:03pm

The director of a documentary about Hong Kong’s 2014 “umbrella movement” protests fears it will be hard for his film and others like it to secure a commercial release in the city because cinema operators worry how Beijing will react.

“No one will want to screen it commercially because of Ten Years ,” says Evans Chan of his film Raise The Umbrellas, referring to the independent film imagining a dystopian Hong Kong in 2025 that was a hit when it went on limited release in 2015 but was dropped by cinemas after Chinese state media criticised it. “All theatres are scared by this film, even a film festival [in Hong Kong].”

Chan, who was speaking on Wednesday evening at an informal media preview of his film, has already seen a screening cancelled by the Asia Society Hong Kong.

In its 117 minutes, Raise The Umbrellas chronicles the unfolding of the 79-day street occupations in autumn 2014, how they spawned the localist movement in Hong Kong and the recent Legislative Council election. It includes footage from prominent protest supporter Denise Ho Wan-sze’s outdoor “freedom” concert in Tai Ping Shan this summer.

The veteran documentary maker stresses he sought to make the film even-handed. When he was making it, he says, the first thing his interview subjects would ask was what his position was on the protest movement.

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“I said that I cannot say my position. I’m supposed to be neutral. I’m a journalist. The umbrella movie may look I’m for one side, but I included anti-Occupy protests in there too,” he says, referring to clips of protest marches organised by Robert Chow Yung’s Alliance for Peace and Democracy. “[Former Legislative Council president] Jasper Tsang [Yok-sing] is in there representing the establishment, and [Chief Executive] Leung Chun-ying is quoted extensively in it.”

Chan says he is disappointed Raise the Umbrellas was not shown at the Asia Society, given it screened a rough cut of the film in December 2015. “You know it is not the programmers’ decision, so where does the ‘no’ come from? But I don’t want to antagonise organisations too much.

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“I’m doing my best to find room for the film to be shown, but I’m not waiting for a screening to be raided either. The window to have films like this shown seems to be closing more and more and I don’t see why it has to get to this point.

“The government seems to be allergic to independence advocacy, but independence isn’t getting widespread support. If anything the government is giving more exposure to it.”

Raise the Umbrellas will be shown at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Central on November 28. Many people featured in the documentary will be in attendance, including Ho and fellow singer and Occupy supporter Anthony Wong Yiu-ming, Tsang, pan-democrat politicians Martin Lee Chu-ming and Emily Lau Wai-hing, academic and Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting and student activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung. The film will also be shown on December 4 at the Kowloon City Book Fair 2016.

Chan hopes it can be screened at the government-run Hong Kong Film Archive. Vincent Chui, organiser of the Hong Kong Independent Film Festival, doubts any government venue would be willing to co-present the documentary, but says renting the archive’s cinema for screenings would not be a problem.

The Raise The Umbrellas director describes himself as “the chronicler of Hong Kong history”, having filmed documentaries about the city after the Tiananmen Square incident in June 1989, and people’s responses to the city’s return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

“I make films not to show what should happen, but how and why it happened, to try to understand something and find a better way of handling it,” he says.