Filmmakers Worry Hong Kong Film Censors Will Stifle Expression

Filmmakers are raising concerns about new guidelines for Hong Kong’s film censor that instruct them to ban movies deemed endangering national security. Last week, the Hong Kong government announced that amendments to the territory’s Film Censorship Ordinance could result in movies being banned as part of the Beijing-imposed national security law. The government statement said it is the “duty” of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (Anders Hammer, director of “Do Not Split,” an Oscar-nominated documentary about the 2019 protests in Hong Kong speaks during an interview in Oslo, Norway, April 7, 2021.“These new film rules will make it even harder for local filmmakers to use their democratic rights to create art and challenge unjust power structures,” he told VOA. “This week, it’s two years since the pro-democracy protests started and it’s really sad to see another serious example of Beijing’s encroachment on Hong Kong’s civil liberties.”  Hammer’s film was panned by Chinese film industry observers, who said the documentary was “full of biased political stances” and “lacks artistry,” according to China’s state-controlled media the Global Times. Since Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, the city was supposed to continue to enjoy certain freedoms unseen in mainland China under a “one country, two systems,” an agreement lasting for 50 years. Despite those promises, critics have complained the city has become increasingly more aligned with China’s mainland model, which is governed by the Chinese Communist Party. After 2019’s pro-democracy protests, Beijing implemented the national security law for Hong Kong, which came into effect last year. Since then, dozens of pro-democracy activists have been arrested and jailed, while slogans have been banned and pro-democracy material has been removed from libraries. The new film censorship guidelines, Hong Kong authorities say, is “built on the premise of a balance between protection of individual rights and freedoms on the one hand, and the protection of legitimate societal interests on the other.”  The new policy calls out for special scrutiny of documentaries, particularly about Hong Kong. “The local audience may likely feel more strongly about the contents of the film or be led into believing and accepting the whole contents of the film, and the effect on viewers would be more impactful,” the censor guidelines state. “The censor should carefully examine whether the film contains any biased, unverified, false or misleading narratives or presentation of commentaries, and the tendency of such contents to lead viewers to imitate the criminal or violent acts depicted.” In China, movies are heavily vetted, and censorship is common, with few Western productions made available to Chinese moviegoers. In March, Hong Kong’s largest TV network cancelled its broadcast of the Academy Awards for the first time in over 50 years, citing “commercial reasons.” The decision came as China requested media to lessen coverage of the awards after Hammer’s documentary received a nomination. China’s government was also displeased by the political views of Beijing-born director Chloe Zhao, who subsequently won the Best Director award for her movie Nomadland. Recently, organizers of the Fresh Wave International Short Film festival in Hong Kong pulled a screening of “Far From Home,” a short political film about Hong Kong following the 2019 anti-government protests. Reports say that censors didn’t approve the screening. Nick Liu, an independent filmmaker from Hong Kong and director of “Tomorrow Is Not Promised,” told VOA the new rules are not clear, making it hard for filmmakers who “don’t know what plot can or can’t show in the film.” An experienced member of the film industry in Hong Kong, who requested anonymity when discussing the national security law, told VOA that much depends on how the censors decide to apply the rules. Will authorities use the same standards on foreign films, he asked.   
“Will a film like South Korea’s “1987” be banned just because it’s about political activism?” 

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