Chinese censorship has put Hong Kong’s once-vibrant film industry at risk | Jobi Cool

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HONG KONG – Director Chan Tse-Wun’s latest film explores how the political struggles of generations of Hong Kongers have shaped their identities. However, it has never been shown in the city where it was founded – where Chan was born and raised – and a significant part of its funding came from abroad.

The story behind “Blue Island,” which could win best documentary feature at Taiwan’s prestigious Golden Horse Awards on Saturday, is the story of how independent Hong Kong filmmakers are seeking overseas markets amid increasing censorship at home.

Chan chose not to screen the film in local cinemas because that would have required official review under the city’s film censorship ordinance. After months of pro-democracy protests against the backdrop of a 2020 security law, the ordinance was amended last year to curb dissent, banning content that could be considered a threat to national security.

Three Taiwanese films were recently shot and scenes needed to be deleted to secure the necessary permits to participate in local film festivals. In October, censors “recommended” against outdoor screenings of “The Dark Knight”. Although they didn’t give a reason, here was the assumption that they reacted to the portrayal of a corrupt Chinese businessman. The movie was pulled.

Such challenges make the nomination of “Blue Island” even more important, Chan said, raising its visibility and starting a discussion about the dramatic upheaval Hong Kong has experienced and what its future holds.

The film shows “the real Hong Kong, its environment and how the locals and the diaspora deal with such massive changes,” Chan said. A mix of documentary and drama that follows different generations of activists as they struggle to find and maintain their independence, it’s set in London, Toronto and Rotterdam. The film was a special selection at festivals and will be distributed in Taiwan in December.

“I hope that the younger generation of filmmakers can realize that we are not alone, that we don’t need to follow the commercial path and go through official censorship,” Chan said. “We can be pioneers and forge our own paths in the pursuit of free filmmaking.”

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Other Hong Kong films that could be honored on Saturday include “The Sunny Side of the Street,” starring Anthony Wong, a popular actor who supported the city’s pro-democracy protests in 2019, and “Limbo,” an A monochromatic depiction of the violent side of the city. Neither film has played in theaters in mainland China.

The Golden Horse Awards, known as the Oscars of the Chinese-speaking world, are one of the most important platforms for independent filmmakers like Chan to shift their focus offshore and find new ways to fund and promote their work. A wider audience. The organization behind the award runs a special program to connect Chinese-language filmmakers with the international industry that can support their artistic ventures. This year, 10 Hong Kong film projects are part of it.

The film community “has shown an ability to survive and thrive in the cracks,” said Kiwi Chow, who directed last year’s documentary winner, “Revolution of Our Times,” which takes its name from a now-banned protest slogan. His film was also not screened in Hong Kong.

Not long ago, Hong Kong cinema was a point of pride. The early 1990s marked its peak; Thanks to many eager investors, hundreds of films were produced annually. Stars like Jackie Chan followed in Bruce Lee’s footsteps and reinvented martial arts for a global audience. Directors like Wong Kar-wai captured the city’s beauty and embodied its identity struggles after the former British colony was handed back to Chinese rule in 1997.

Chow said he started reaching out to independent investors and independent artists when major film companies with mainland affiliates cut ties. Others have chosen to do the same rather than risk their artistic expression. For example, Chan secured funding for “Blue Island” from France, South Korea and three other countries.

Not surprisingly, given the adversarial relationship between China and Taiwan, the Golden Horse award has provoked Beijing’s ire.

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After a Taiwanese director expressed support for the self-ruled island’s independence, Beijing banned mainland filmmakers from participating in the 2019 ceremony. In September, an influential Hong Kong film association issued a letter urging members to boycott this weekend’s ceremony amid “intense geopolitical tensions”.

Some local filmmakers benefit from working with Chinese officials. They receive access under a 2003 agreement between Beijing and Hong Kong for the co-production of films, which continues to provide funding and access to circumvent the mainland’s limited annual quota for imported films.

“Most Hong Kong directors and actors are only participating in mainland-based stories,” said Li Cheng-liang, assistant professor of communications at National Chengchi University in Taipei. “This support is at the expense of the entire Hong Kong film industry as they transfer their skills and experience to China.”

But strict censorship has weakened the appeal of the Chinese film market. As of November, only 49 foreign films had passed scrutiny and been allowed into mainland theaters this year, the lowest number in nearly a decade.

Last month, China’s National Day holiday box office dropped more than 60 percent compared to the 2021 holiday. patriotic movie, Shows of Chinese officials or soldiers coming to the rescue of civilians to garner support for the Communist Party account for more than two-thirds of ticket sales.

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“These films tell people’s stories not from the perspective of individualism but from the perspective of collectivism,” said Hao Jian, a professor at the Beijing Film Academy. ‘If the real life of people and society is not presented, it will definitely affect the enthusiasm of the audience to watch the film for a long time.

For Ren Xia, whose film “May You Stay Forever Young” was nominated for a Golden Horse Award last year, returning from the mainland and Hong Kong markets It can be a tough decision. It’s one he’s willing to live with, however. In July, he helped write a joint declaration on freedom of filmmaking, calling for production without contracts. Dozens of filmmakers in Hong Kong, including Chan and Chow, signed.

“Filmmaking itself is risky,” Ren said last week, noting that award-winning Iranian directors such as Jafar Panahi have been jailed for telling the truth through their work. “If they can do it in more dangerous conditions than we can, we have no reason to fear.”

He added, ‘The film is really important for me. “I will sacrifice my freedom to continue shooting.”

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