MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of “Filming the Individual and the Collective: The 2019 Pro-democracy Movement in Hong Kong Independent Documentaries,” by Judith Pernin. Find a teaser below. For the entire essay, go to: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/online-series/pernin/. Our thanks to Judith Pernin for sharing her important work with the MCLC community.
Kirk Denton, MCLC
By Judith Pernin[*]
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright October 2021)
Between June and December 2019, Hong Kong became the stage of large-scale pro-democracy protests, during which participants elaborated original strategies, along with slogans, posters, songs, videos, and documentaries. This outpouring of political creativity during social movements has many parallels in the world, and, in Hong Kong, was preceded by the 2014 Umbrella movement. The seventy-nine-day occupation inspired around thirty independent documentaries, an unprecedented number of productions for Hong Kong. Fueled by ongoing social discontent, the reconfiguration of the local documentary scene, and the convenience of social media and online platforms, audiovisual records of the 2019 protests are both diverse and ubiquitous. As in 2014, live broadcasts, investigative reports, visual manifestos, personal diaries, and documentary films reported on the movement and their actors. These media also express personal views on Hong Kong and circulate ideas and inspire mobilization locally and abroad. However, given the evolution of Hong Kong’s political situation and the shifting of local protest strategies, one could expect marked differences in the filmic treatment of the 2019 protests. The Umbrella movement was followed by 5 years of “abeyance” amid strong rebuffs against the pro-democracy movement (Lee et al. 2019). When opposition to the proposed extradition bill erupted massively on the streets in June 2019, protests and their actors had already drastically changed. Furthermore, during the half-year of the 2019 pro-democracy movement, protest modes kept on evolving, constantly adjusting to escalating police tactics and government reactions. What kind of documentaries have been produced on the 2019 movement, and how do these documentaries translate the evolution of protest modes and Hong Kong’s rapidly changing political context?
Scholars of Asian documentary cinema (Park 2015; Nornes 2007) have studied the influence of specific political environments on protest modes, filmmaking practices, and representations, influences that are also found in documentaries made on the Umbrella movement (Pernin 2020). Before examining recent productions on the 2019 protests, it is important to review the visual culture from which these new productions emerged. Despite the dominance of Hong Kong’s commercial cinema, an unprecedented number of individual and collective independent documentaries were produced on the 2014 occupation and its aftermath. Using observational techniques, young filmmakers in particular have depicted a plethora of complex characters—at once political heroes and vulnerable young people—such as the well-known activists Joshua Wong 黃之鋒, Yau Wai-ching 游蕙禎, and Edward Leung Tin-kei 梁天琦 who appear alongside ordinary protesters and citizens. Their streetwise, on-the-ground politics, and emotional turmoil are subtly exposed through first-person direct narration or by the subjective voiceover of the filmmaker-participant. Apart from depicting confrontations with police, these films give much space to discussions, arguments, speeches, and various forms of public address among protesters, mirroring Hongkongers’ desire for a voice through democratic processes. This tapestry of characters from distinct local cultures and subcultures, gender identities, religions, educational backgrounds, and political leanings reconfigures the image of the righteous model protesters often projected in the media, deepening our understanding of Hong Kong’s diverse society through personal stories. Close to their protagonists, the filmmakers are also able to translate their changing state of mind, from hope in the early days of the movement to despair after the clearing of occupied sites, which are often depicted as micro-utopias. What grew in the void left by this largely ineffective movement was a feeling of doom, but also the hope to take to the streets again, though in a different way, as illustrated by a couple of documentaries reflecting on the aftermath of the Umbrella movement. Reviewing the breaks and continuities between 2014 and 2019 in Hong Kong documentaries, this essay is also informed by the growing scholarship on the creative practices of protests in Hong Kong in the fields of music, slogans, and visual arts (Veg 2016; Wong 2019; Veg 2020). . . [READ THE WHOLE ESSAY]