Young democracy firebrands stars of documentary

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 January, 2014, 5:14am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 January, 2014, 5:14am

Two teenagers who found themselves at the forefront of Hong Kong politics are at the heart of a new documentary charting the key moments of 2012, one of the city's most tumultuous years.

British amateur filmmaker Matthew Torne, 33, hopes his Lessons in Dissent will premiere at the Hong Kong International Film Festival in March.

Joshua Wong Chi-fung, was just 14 when he led the Scholarism movement against the proposed national education curriculum, while Ma Jai dropped out of school when he was 14 to fight for social justice.

Both went to the same school and grew up in Ap Lei Chau.

Torne met Ma in August 2011 during a protest about the heavy police presence during a visit by the-then vice-premier Li Keqiang to the city.

"Ma Jai was quite friendly," Torne said, but he had no inkling the lad would become one of the main protagonists in his documentary.

"The Metropolitan Police in London would love the Hong Kong protests because they are unbelievably quiet and peaceful, but this time they were sitting on the floor and saying, 'We are not going'."

That day Wong was at another protest that Torne decided to check out at the last minute.

Wong's speech to the media about the fight against national education captivated Torne. "His sheer confidence and eloquence was just remarkable," he said.

The 97-minute film, edited from 200 hours of footage and costing HK$3 million, captures key moments in 2012, which saw the election of a new chief executive - Leung Chun-ying - and legislative councillors.

The year was also witness to the once-in-a-decade leadership change on the mainland and a landmark right-of-abode case for domestic helpers in Hong Kong.

Torne did a masters in Hong Kong politics between 2003 and 2005 and returned in 2011 with a purpose. "I wanted to convert the theoretical knowledge to actually getting to know the people who operated in this pro-democracy world," he said.

Torne's love for Hong Kong started during a visit in the summer of 2003, at the height of Sars and just days before the historic July 1 protest of that year against the proposed Article 23, an anti-sedition law.

"I saw the city when it was going through a crisis of confidence and was in its search of an identity," he said.

The message that he would like audiences to walk away with mirrors Ma Jai's words at the end of the film.

Torne said: "Take part in the civic society but don't just participate in the odd July 1 protest. You don't need to be like Ma Jai or Joshua, but pay attention and open your eyes.

"Hong Kong is politically ready to participate in the electoral system and it stands a chance of being a great place but don't put your head in the sand."