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).
Protest Documentaries and Creative Practices in Hong Kong—Literature Review
Scholars examining Hong Kong protests and socially-committed documentaries have explored several lines of inquiry. Laikwan Pang emphasizes both the “intersubjectivity” and archival quality of Umbrella movement documentaries (Pang 2020: 118), something that Kenny Ng also identifies in his discussion of Chan Tze-woon’s Yellowing (Ng 2019). As Gina Marchetti points out, documentaries such as Raise the Umbrella reveal the “greater awareness of (…) intersectional inclusivity” and “the role feminist and LGBTQ perspectives play in the forging of democracy in Hong Kong” (2019). Many young independent documentary filmmakers indeed experienced a political awakening while filming the occupation (interview with Chan Tze-woon and To Liao; Pernin 2020), but multiple contentious social and political issues already featured in lesser-known films made during the 2000s (Ingham 2021; Tam 2019). Eco-documentaries (Yee 2019), Anson Mak’s films on space, identity and sound (Ingham 2015), Tammy Cheung’s Election and July (Marchetti 2017; Ingham 2019) brought to the fore local struggles in post-handover Hong Kong. The connection between documentaries and social movements exists also more practically in the configuration of the local festival scene (Yau 2017), and documentary film groups such as Video Power historically emerged from grassroots micro social movements (Cui 2005). More recently, Kristof Van der Troost (2020) has aptly demonstrated the intertwining of Hong Kong cinema with the local social and political “movement field” (Yuen and Cheng 2018) taking as an example the operating mode of the Hong Kong Independent Film Festival 香港獨立電影節 (HKIndieFF). If independent documentaries reflect the diverse ideologies and the structure of Hong Kong civil society and pro-democratic forces, what remains to be seen is whether the 2019 political context and modes of activism have changed these dynamics, and how they have impacted documentary practices, styles, and forms.
A Protest Visual Culture: Online Documentaries and Festivals Screenings
In 2019, boundaries among documentary film practices, news media, and online videos platforms tended to blur, creating a multifaceted and overlapping visual culture. Many documentary filmmakers contributed to news media as freelancers and also produced online content for their social media accounts, as well as films dedicated to public screenings. Conversely, besides covering the events with frequent live webcasts, the English language newspaper South China Morning Post (SCMP) released on its website a documentary based on protest footage interspersed with interviews of veteran politicians (Martin Lee 李柱銘, Regina Yip 葉劉淑儀), police officers (Assistant Police Commissioner Rupert Dover), and activists (anonymous, Jimmy Sham 岑子杰) in order to give voice to both opponents and supporters of the movement. Even the Hong Kong Police Force produced an online long feature, Starry Night, to restore their image by telling the story from their perspective.
This proliferation shows how relevant the documentary form was to various stakeholders competing over narratives on the 2019 protests. Many of these productions were available online where they could be seen by a wider audience than independent documentaries screened in small venues. Since the last decade, however, and particularly after the Umbrella movement, documentaries depicting local protests have attracted large attendances in Hong Kong (interviews with Tammy Cheung, Vincent Chui). During Q&A sessions, spectators often narrate personal anecdotes and praise or criticize the film based on their experience as protesters. In 2019, while protests were still ongoing or immediately after, several documentaries on the movement quickly reached the silver screens thanks to two festivals, the Hong Kong International Documentary Film Festival (HKIDFF) and the HKIndieFF (Van den Troost 2020 and 2021a). These two festivals are organized by institutions (respectively, Visible Records 采風電影 and Ying e Chi 影意志) involved in film distribution, production, and education, with Visible Records’ regular documentary film training programs taken by many local independent filmmakers. Both festivals operated in noncommercial theaters, such as the Hong Kong Art Center 香港藝術中心, or in museum screening rooms run by the Hong Kong government’s Leisure, Cultural and Sport Department 康樂及文化事務署 (LCSD). When the protest movement reached its peak in autumn, several HKIDFF screenings were canceled due to the early “closure” of government-run screening venues adjacent to protests routes. In early February, the emergence of Covid-19 prevented the normal operation of the HKIndieFF program of protest-related shorts, which, when not canceled, were attended by mask-wearing spectators—ironically only a few weeks after the ban on facial coverings aimed at protesters. Tickets for programs focusing on the 2019 protests quickly sold out, as were every subsequent additional screening over the next year and a half (interview with Vincent Chui). If the context gave extra challenges to festivals organizers, their programs proved highly relevant to their local audience, and since then, these films have had success abroad, resonating with Taiwanese and international audiences, and the Hong Kong and Chinese-speaking diaspora around the globe.
Body of Films and Selection of Works
While this unprecedented protest movement has generated around twenty short and long documentaries so far, I narrowed my study to a selection of documentaries initially released by the two above-mentioned festivals. Adopting a similar approach to filmmaking, they testify dramatically both to changing protest modes and to filmmaking practices in Hong Kong. This selection includes a series of shorts by Kanas Liu 廖潔雯 chronicling the protests from July to October 2019. Each of these shorts focuses on a separate protest action filmed over the course of a day and lasts around 15 minutes. Two other well-regarded documentaries made by an anonymous collective of filmmakers will also be analyzed here: Taking Back the Legislature (hereafter Taking) on the July 1st occupation of the Hong Kong Legislative Council (Legco), and Inside the Red Brick Wall (hereafter Inside) filmed during the police siege of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in November 2019. In contrast with documentaries adopting a macroscopic approach aiming at narrating the whole movement (Revolution of our Time), with reflexive takes such as Anson Mak’s Fear(less) and Dear, or with documentaries combining sleek protest footage with participants’ interviews, such as Ai Weiwei’s Cockroach or the SCMP’s China’s Rebel City, the films analyzed here focus only on ordinary and often anonymous protagonists during key protest moments, in the heat of the action. They also differ from attempts by foreign filmmakers such as Do Not Split and Burn with Us, that relish in sensational protest imagery and give a confused account that reveals their outsider’s perspective.
By contrast, the filmmakers discussed here, including members of the anonymous collective, are relatively young Hongkongers (below 40 years old), which gives them a unique proximity to the mostly young protest participants. Many of them have filmed protests in Hong Kong since at least the 2014 occupation movement, and work in the fields of journalism and documentary filmmaking. Their practice is therefore informed by a knowledge of the conventions of mainstream visual journalism, without being entirely shaped by them. In fact, all the filmmakers interviewed for this piece state that they try to break free from those conventions (Interviews with Kanas Liu and Sam Tsang; Lin 2020 and Hsieh 2021). If they film the event’s enfolding on-site like live broadcasters from news media, their mode of collaboration is loose and spontaneous rather than planned or hierarchical (Interview with Anonymous; Lin 2020 and Hsieh 2021). In fact, most claim that their first impulse was individual and aimed at simply recording the protests and not making a full-fledged documentary (Lin 2020). Trying to give a counterpoint to media narratives, they deliberately “choose other shooting locations” (Sam Tsang; Kanas Liu) away from journalists, focus on “actions and processes missing from mainstream reports” (Hsieh 2021), and abstain from commenting and from interviewing participants. The cameraman is not, however, hiding from the filmed subjects and edited out during post-production as can be done in purely observational documentary films. In a balancing act between engaging and keeping a distance with the action and the participants, these documentaries record in detail the ordinary experiences of those involved in resistance action.
Another specific characteristic of these films is the speed of their production. Unlike many documentaries, they were released quickly, and their editing follows the chronology of the singular event they focus on. Fast and minimal, the post-production left the films with a feel of rawness, and many circulated online or in local festivals and screenings even as the movement was still ongoing or shortly thereafter. These films were made with the intention of rapidly reaching audiences and testifying to the fast-changing environment of Hong Kong. Kanas Liu recalls that she was prompted to post her shorts online by the proliferation of decontextualized online content and her dissatisfaction with the slow pace and limited reach of her past film screenings (Interview with Kanas Liu). Members of the anonymous collective referred to the Taiwanese activist film group Green Team’s 綠色小組 practice of onsite filming with immediate public sharing through homemade VHS community screenings in the 1980s to explain their eagerness to share their work quickly (Lin 2021). There is a sense of urgency in this unusual mode of distribution that we can attribute to the proliferation of competing official counter-narratives, a highly reactive political environment, and the fear of a looming suppression of freedom of speech. The latter wasn’t unfounded. Since July 2020, the National Security Law promulgated by Beijing has fundamentally damaged the political rights of expression for ordinary Hongkongers, not to mention pro-democracy politicians, activists, artists, academics, and filmmakers. The need to rapidly share highly traumatizing events with an audience who experienced the very same traumas is now compounded by the necessity to preserve records for the future, while circumventing the growing limitations facing festival organizers and filmmakers.
At the crossroads of visual culture, social history, and film studies, this essay is based on an ethnography of documentary viewing practices taking place online and during film screenings, on interviews with filmmakers and festival organizers, and on film analyses. In the first section, I examine how specific modes of protest (radical tactics, fluidity, anonymity) shape on-site filmmaking practices, with the help of field observations, social movement scholarship, and interviews with filmmakers. The interviews were conducted with the authors of the selected documentaries (Kanas Liu, her occasional collaborator Sam Tsang 曾錦山, and a member of the anonymous documentary collective), supplemented by two published interviews with the anonymous collective respectively conducted by Taiwan International Documentary Festival 台灣國際紀錄片影展 programmer Wood Lin 林木材 and independent programmer Hsieh I-Hsuan 謝以萱.
I then analyze the representation of protests and their actors in the selected films, focusing on Kanas Liu’s series of shorts in the second section and on the collective anonymous films in the third section. This close reading of documentaries spanning almost the whole duration of the movement, from July to November 2019, allows us to look at the evolution of both protests and filmmaking modes, and its aesthetic results. I conclude with some comments on how the experience of the 2019 protests have fundamentally changed the position of these filmmakers toward their filmed topic and even their own identities.
Evolving Protest Modes and Filmmaking Practices
If the anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill (ELAB) movement started by relatively conventional (save for their size) mass street rallies and drew on tactics developed before or during the Umbrella movement, the peaceful and at times carefree approach prevalent in 2014 quickly became untenable in 2019. During the half year of its unfolding, protest modes and policing tactics constantly evolved. Since many scholars have aptly described this fast-changing situation (Lee et al. 2019; Yuen 2019; Ng 2021; Ku 2020; Chan and Pun 2020; Ting 2020), this section only aims at inserting the selected films into the chronology of the events, and at pointing at what the protest modes and overall political context entail for film practice.
Academic literature and on-site observations in 2019 reveal marked differences with earlier demonstrations organized in Hong Kong, from the use of public space, the tone of slogans, and even protest attire. From the outset, instead of the brighter and more hopeful yellow of the Umbrella movement, protesters adopted the color black for mass rallies. While they seemed a marginal group in 2014, younger and more radical black-clad protesters (jungmou 勇武), gradually became more visible than older, wo lei fei 和理非 (rational, peaceful) ones. They shunned public speeches, opting instead for a relatively quiet mode of action, communicating with an ad-hoc sign language on the ground or through chats and polling on Telegram channels or discussions on the forum LIHKG. After a month of mass street rallies, Handover day on July 1 was marked by the short-lived occupation of the Legislative Council, shown in the documentary Taking. Inspired by Taiwan’s Sunflower movement and attempts in 2014, this action, controversial even among movement supporters, represents a turning point in terms of protest modes and police response. It was followed in July by a diversification of tactics, with mass peaceful rallies and playful demonstrations attempting to explain to Mainland tourists the protesters’ rationales with jokes and songs, as described in Kanas Liu’s The Times of the Individual. Although protesters protected themselves from tear gas and hid their identities with umbrellas and masks in 2014, these props were mainly used during clashes with police. In 2019, it became increasingly rare to see protesters’ faces, and they also used more varied and destructive objects during actions, in particular street furniture. At the onset of protests, participants would quickly and quietly dislocate road fences, garbage bins, and paved sidewalks, to build small barricades to disrupt traffic and slow down police. Their collaborative practices and modes of communication are aptly described by Kanas Liu in Comrades. Filmed in July, the short documentary shows protesters in the “process of running away from the police, not [participating in] a protest” (Interview with Kanas Liu). With the escalation of the use of force, political demands gradually vanished from the films, as protesters became mainly busy securing locations and fleeing police. After several traumatizing events (the Yuen Long mob attack of July 21, along with several suicides and accidental deaths), protest modes shifted again. From August 12-14, the Hong Kong International Airport was occupied (Trial and Error by Kanas Liu) so as to reach an international audience by paralyzing the city’s busy air traffic. Seeing that these massive actions had little impact, instead of planning authorized marches, crowds of masked and elusive protesters following the “Be water” 如水 motto would appear simultaneously in various areas of the city, after giving short notice on social media. This unpredictability meant that independent filmmakers had to keep an eye on multiple spontaneous happenings across the territory, and this volatility created hindrances in approaching potential film protagonists. Meanwhile, police response became increasingly forceful. Clashes reached a climax in autumn with two campus occupations in November—first at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, then at PolyU. The latter features in the anonymous long feature Inside, which records the traumatic 14-day siege, an event representing the “low of the movement” for the filmmakers collective (Lin 2020).
Although the Umbrella movement provided an ideal backdrop for documentaries centered on individuals, narrating their personal stories and recording public debates, different filming practices were adopted in the ever-escalating 2019 context. As all interviewed filmmakers report, the spontaneous and flowing nature of the actions made onsite filming a risky game of cat and mouse with police and protesters. While protagonists in 2014 embraced being filmed, as Kanas Liu experienced with her two Van Drivers, in 2019 protesters were not interested, or even refused to appear in documentaries. Holding a camera without a clear pro-democracy affiliation became suspicious to protesters who feared pro-government media or police infiltration, and even ordinary citizens were scolded for recording protests on their mobile phones without taking part more actively or for risking to identify people engaged in potentially illegal activities. In autumn, the conflict intensified again, and with the deployment of tear gas, water cannons, and police batons, filming protests became physically dangerous, especially without the relative protection offered by press status. While teams of livestreaming journalists in hard hats flocked to the conflict’s frontlines, the filmmakers interviewed for this essay decided to focus instead on the sides and the backlines of protests, which gave them different perspectives on the movement and their participants than those of media workers.
Apart from adjusting to these changes, Kanas Liu also reconfigured her work method. Instead of proceeding to short, preliminary filmed interviews onsite as she used to, she instead spent more time observing the scene off-camera, making herself and her cameraman visible. If they seemed accepted by protesters, they would cautiously start shooting, making sure to avoid recording details that could reveal identities. These adjustments are not without drawbacks. Sam Tsang regrets that facial coverings, such as gas masks, prevented the communication of emotions onscreen and that the necessity to protect protesters’ identities made it impossible to follow an individual participant for more than a few minutes. Toward the end of the movement and even though protagonists were wearing masks, Kanas Liu and the anonymous filmmakers blurred the protester’s faces in the postproduction stage because they record illegal acts. “Believing that the documentaries were creations of Hongkongers as a collective, and hoping they can continue documenting the untold stories of Hong Kong,” Taking and Inside’s filmmakers chose to remain anonymous. Along with the legal risks, filmmakers Sam Tsang and Kanas Liu felt exhaustion and psychological pressure even after months of coverage on the ground. This is also the case for the anonymous collective, who eventually found themselves “unable to film” (Lin 2021) on the occupied campus, preferring to engage in daily life activities and exchanges with protesters without the mediation of the camera. Unable to watch and therefore relive the events, the filmmakers of Inside meticulously edited their film over a few months, a much longer time than Taking. Inside was first released in a 45-minute version at the HKIndieFF in January 2020, and in a final 88-minute version in November 2020.
In the following two sections, I present a close reading of Kanas Liu’s series of five shorts and of the two collective documentaries. Each focusing on singular moments of the protest movement, these documentaries testify to the co-evolution of protests and filmmaking practices and to the turn away from other journalistic, video, or cinematographic endeavors. Because it is applied to documentary films in this essay, “representation” is understood here in broad terms, encompassing altogether the idea of “presenting again,” but also the aesthetic acts of framing, editing in (and out), and constructing protest narratives based on factual, recorded events. Made by independent filmmakers who share comparable filmmaking approaches, these documentary representations of protests rely on collaborative (Kanas Liu’s series) or collective practices (Taking and Inside) that were already adopted by young filmmakers during the Umbrella movement. Chan Tze-woon and Kanas Liu have described the informal support that independent filmmakers provided to each other in 2014, lending equipment and offering advice, and working alongside each other without competing because they shared the same devotion to a cause (interviews with Chan Tze-woon and Kanas Liu). An anonymous collective documentary, 75 Days, was even released shortly after the Umbrella movement. Whereas Taking and Inside are both credited to an anonymous collective, Kanas Liu acknowledges the individual contributions of the several cinematographers she works with (four in Trial and Error) and is co-director with Sam Tsang of Not One less discussed below. The tension between the individual and the collective animates these filmmakers who emphasize their freedom of choice, personal styles, and the fluidity of their collaborations. This collaborative character resonates with a protest movement that shunned leaders, while valuing horizontality in decision-making and solidarity or support of comrades (sauzuk 手足) even when in disagreement.
Collaborations between Group and Individuals in Kanas Liu’s Series of Shorts
These ideas run through Kanas Liu’s series and are encapsulated her first short’s title, The Time of the Individual, which focuses on a protest organized on July 7 in Tsim Sha Tsui, usually the domain of Chinese tourists from the mainland: protesters pace the streets and reach out to the tourists by singing songs, chanting humorous slogans, and handing leaflets to explain the movement’s aims. This documentary has a similar structure as the subsequent ones in the series. It starts with a brief text giving the events’ context, and pieces together short scenes filmed throughout the day illustrating how protesters communicate and work together, and linking individual actions to a collective movement. In contrast with previous anti-mainlander marches in Hong Kong (Yuen and Chung 2018), the protestors display no aggression. The mood seems positive and light: protesters jokingly address Mainlanders in accented Putonghua and the police are largely absent from the frame.
By contrast, Comrades, filmed by Kanas Liu and three cinematographers on July 28 in Sheungwan, already reveals a shift in protest and policing strategies. In this usually quiet neighborhood, protesters organize road blocks using street furniture and communicate with a percussive language by banging metal poles on the ground. Short and precise close-ups focus on coordinated actions and well-executed techniques, such as extinguishing tear gas grenades, occupying streets, and retreating safely, more than on communicating demands. The intimacy and solidarity between protesters clasping hands or rescuing injured comrades feature in several scenes, as well as support from passersby who help protesters flee the police.
On August 12, Kanas Liu and three other cinematographers took the airport express along with tourists and protesters wearing masks and black clothes to film the airport occupation in a documentary that would be called Trial and Error. While cooperation and solidarity still appear in Trial and Error, desperation and confusion start to overtake the film’s representation. The short focuses again on decision-making processes: the mutual help and individual initiatives involved in protesters carrying signs, distributing pamphlets to international visitors, and informing returning passengers of transport options back to the city. Some protesters and tourists alike leave the airport late in the afternoon by foot, or hitching a ride from sympathetic drivers, while others continue to occupy the terminal before a police crackdown, their slogans and songs echoing off its glass walls.
Not One Less, directed by Kanas Liu and Sam Tsang, was filmed by four cinematographers on August 31, and in the first half of September. Text reminds the viewer of the event’s increasingly tense background, with 1000 arrests, reports of sexual intimidation and assaults against female protesters, suicides, and rumors of missing protesters contributing to raise tensions. While the film initially focuses mostly on mutual care and tactical discussions among protesters, increasingly forceful clashes with police feature in its second half. At this point, protesters are all wearing gas masks and their faces are systematically blurred. Quietly, they form chains to distribute water, erect barricades, assist injured protesters, exchange information, and facilitate firefighters’ rescue services. Several days later, on mid-autumn festival, they are back on the streets, but this time in front of the Lai Chi Kok 荔枝角 prison reception center, singing, chanting slogans, and cheering on their arrested comrades. Once again, the director highlights a narrative of solidarity in the face of repression.
Be Water, filmed on October 20 in West Kowloon, focuses on a demonstration organized by the Civil Human Rights Front 民間人權陣線 opposing the ban on face coverings in public space. Despite receiving a police objection, the march took place. In the opening scene, we can see participants displaying international flags and even wearing comedic masks in breach of the ban. Defiantly poking fun at the new regulation, they chant slogans calling for “revenge,” and their anger is channeled into the destruction of China-affiliated businesses and into traffic disruption. As the situation escalates, the film focuses on agile and fast-moving protesters who quickly vanish, protected by ordinary people shielding them from the cameras, or insulting the police (“everybody hates you!” yells a middle-aged woman after a round of tear gas). Coughing and running away from police, bystanders and protesters alike seem suffocated by tear gas and political oppression.
Overall, and by contrast with media reporting and films such as Cockroach and Burn with Us, the decision to never position cameras on the front lines allows Kanas Liu to avoid sensationalizing street confrontations. Thanks to multiple vantage points, and an almost anthropological focus on details, gestures, organization, modes of communications, and actions, the film meticulously describes the movement’s inner workings. As a whole, the series reflects positively on protesters, eschewing for instance a widely filmed standoff with an undercover mainland journalist during the airport occupation. However, while protesters are still depicted as cooperating with rescue services and firefighters, as well as caring for ordinary bystanders, their tenacity and at times forceful actions depart from the idealistic representation of vulnerable youngsters during the 2014 Umbrella movement. Shot from afar, behind their backs, or in close ups on their hands and feet to protect their identities, protesters come to appear as an elusive mass of determined individuals. By selecting five key moments of the protests, Liu’s series shows how the movement evolved from good-natured mass rallies to unpredictable scenes of turmoil in which anonymous protesters maintain their individuality while connecting with a larger collective movement and a supportive section of Hong Kong society.
Occupying Spaces: Two Anonymous Collective Documentaries
Although they differ from Kanas Liu’s films because they focus on static protest moments instead of crowds in motion, the two anonymous documentaries Taking and Inside also strive to articulate the individual and the collective both in their representation of protesters and in their filmic approach of editing together footage shot by individual filmmakers. Taking place respectively in the Legco complex and on a university campus, they feature a group of protagonists who are trying to occupy a space of political power (Taking), before becoming captive to a place of symbolic student resistance (Inside). If they also focus on occupied spaces, the parallel with Umbrella movement documentaries stops here. While in 2014 the occupied space was largely depicted as utopian, despite being riddled by internal and external tensions, here, in both films, protesters gain control of spaces that quickly become untenable and transform into a trap. In terms of filming, the risks (physical danger and legal consequences) posed by the depicted actions point to filmic strategies that depart from those used during the Umbrella movement. Like Kanas Liu’s cinematographers, these filmmakers did not get too close to individual protesters for fear of exposing them. All protagonists, like the filmmakers themselves, remain unknown and unknowable, even though their individuality comes through in sequences where emotions play a central role. Despite collective authorship, the filmmaking style is homogenous, and the editing executed by a single person in dialogue with the rest of the collective (Hsieh 2021) illustrates a fine balance between distance and intimacy, individuality and collectivity.
A Short-lived Occupation
Taking Back the Legislature, the 45-minute long recording of the Legco occupation, pieces together almost all the footage shot by four filmmakers onsite over a whole day and night. It starts at 6 am in front of the Legco complex with a series of quiet, somber shots translating the atmosphere of mourning on Handover day and the recent death of a protester who fell to his death from a nearby building. A few titles serve to inform viewers about the conflict among pro-democracy supporters: aside from the regular anti-government march organized for that day, some wanted to try and occupy the Legco, while others, especially pro-democracy Legco members, opposed to it. At first, the scenes of groups discussing tactics in front of the Legco are somewhat reminiscent of Umbrella documentaries, and seem almost like a reenactment, except that in 2014 the face of protesters were rarely blurred. In front of the government building, pro-democracy Legco members Ted Hui 許智峯 and Claudia Mo 毛孟靜 voice their arguments through megaphones. They emotionally plead with the young protestors to stop their action, addressing them with an inclusive “we” in an attempt to incorporate them into the pan-democrats camp—to no avail. After the unsuccessful dialogue between the anonymous young protesters and the elected politicians, the former proceed to ram a metal trolley into the glass door of the Legco building. On the other side of the glass panel, the police warn everyone to retreat, but their attempts to defend the building are, curiously, limited to firing tear gas. They disappear from the film when protesters break into the Legco, after four hours of hard work rendered in the film through ellipses and titles. Emboldened by their unexpected success, the protesters finally penetrate the building at around 6:30 pm. With groups of journalists looking on, several descriptive shots show them reclaiming the deliberating chamber, sitting on Legislative members’ chairs, tagging the walls and the Hong Kong flag, and making speeches, regaining control over a space they feel doesn’t represent them adequately.
In contrast to live broadcasts, which followed the action with a single continuous take, the collective approach allowed for the simultaneous filming both inside and outside the building, where an enthusiastic crowd is cheering the occupiers on. Juxtaposed through editing, the legislative chamber and the courtyard are now connected, and frontline and backend protesters seem united for a few minutes in the celebration of their success. Soon, however, discussions break out among them on the feasibility of sustaining their action. In a gesture reminiscent of the deliberative character of Umbrella movement documentaries, the camera pivots to a protester, Brian Leung 梁繼平, who suddenly unmasks himself to make a speech supporting the occupation. However, rumors of an imminent police crackdown start to circulate, and the occupiers are in insufficient numbers to remain in the building safely. The debates about staying or leaving increase in tension inside and outside of the building. The chamber empties quickly and even Brian Leung puts his mask back on and seems to change his mind. Although divided into different spaces, protesters inside and outside the building are engaged in the same discursive activity.
Among the confusion in the courtyard, a compromise is suddenly reached: they will retreat only if the last protesters inside the chamber leave with them. A few minutes before the arrival of police, the camera follows a group of protesters, including many young women holding hands, running back into the building. Despite their resistance, the last occupiers are pulled outside among slogans vowing unity, the unsteady camera conveying the protesters’ sense of urgency and panic. Outside, while the police start to fire tear gas, a series of short scenes show several pro-democracy Legco members and social workers forming a front between police and protesters, urging the former to remain calm. The retreat from the Legco area appears as a moment of solidarity and unity, with young protesters, “radical occupiers,” and prodemocracy Legco members mobilized to defend each other.
After a title announces the end of the July 1 demonstration at midnight, the final sequence of the film brings us back one last time into the corridors of the Legco building at 1:30 am on July 2. In a stunning long shot devoid of dialogue and protagonists but resonating with the sound of the building’s alarm bells, the cameraman returns to an almost empty chamber, save the presence of journalists filming the aftermath of the short-lived occupation. Looking around the chamber, the cameraman locates a backpack, grabs it, and leaves in haste. In the confusion of the quickly changing occupation, potentially incriminating personal belongings were left onsite as if the chamber had already become a second home. Despite the tension in this shot, it seems ironically easy for the cameraman to sneak into the chamber again after protesters struggled for so long to occupy it. Although it may seem gratuitous because it does not treat any event directly related to the protest, this final sequence reveals an individual behind the camera and conveys perhaps his or her regret of leaving a site that symbolizes the political system protesters wanted to change, dissatisfied as they were with their lack of representation.
Faceless Protesters in PolyU Siege
Filmed four months later in a worsening political environment, Inside is Taking’s negative counterpoint. After months of mobilization, protesters have turned to actions aimed at paralyzing the city’s main thoroughfares. The Chinese University of Hong Kong was, for example, the stage of massive confrontations between police and protesters who were blocking an adjacent highway. Several incidents of police violence and triad attacks, as well as rumors of the “disappearance” of protesters, allegations of physical and sexual assaults, and the teargas routinely fired in dense neighborhoods deteriorated social dynamics and reinforced antagonism between protesters and police, who seem to have regained the upper hand through force. The film reflects those changes and offers a striking contrast with Taking. Whereas police appeared only marginally in Taking, acting as an unseen threat that only managed to regain control over the Legco when protesters decided to retreat, here, they feature prominently in scenes of conflicts and chases in which they dominate protesters. Whereas Taking takes place over twenty-four hours, Inside records twelve harrowing days of the siege of a university campus that protesters chose for its strategic location near one of the main cross-harbor tunnels they hoped to block. Finally, whereas protesters invaded and managed to leave the Legco in unity despite post-event arrests, here, surrounded by police, they are trapped in a prison of their own making, left only with the options of surrendering or attempting to flee.
The documentary starts with familiar gray-scale images of tear gas, as if to indicate their ubiquity by the absence of color, or, as the collective says, to express the “repetition of the same” scenes of police repression (Lin 2021). Titles then set the stage for the context described above. A series of quiet, almost solemn shots of the wide, empty thoroughfares shows protesters on November 17 placing bricks on the roads surrounding the university to block traffic. The small brick structures and the protesters’ tiny silhouettes highlight the difference of scale between the people and Hong Kong’s brutal urban infrastructures, and the disproportion between the protesters’ means and those of the police force. From then on, the film follows the interactions between police and protesters (insults and offensive music traded over the university bridge, chases on the roads during escape attempts, exchanges of projectiles, including Molotov cocktails, tear gas grenades, and so on), and the depiction of campus life and its inhabitants. Whereas the former sections are characterized by harsh language, a fast pace, and high adrenaline, the latter tend to be more emotional and at times slow and contemplative, counterbalancing images of war-like violence with humane interactions or descriptive shots. The main debates on campus revolve around how to sustain the siege, escape plans, and surrender tactics more than political discussions, and we can feel the tension rising among participants in this enclosed environment. The protesters’ isolation is, however, broken during a series of escape attempts. For instance, protesters are filmed at night climbing down ropes from a university footbridge to be rescued by sympathizers on motorcycles who drive them away right under the police’s nose—except for those who get caught. Later, secondary school principals suddenly appear on campus to encourage underage students participating in the movement to return home, after negotiating a suspended arrest with police. The unexpected intrusion of unmasked middle-aged adults in suits among the group of anonymous black-clad young people breaks up the unity on campus, heightens the occupiers’ sense of threat, and relaunches heated arguments between them. Fearful and desperate, some bid farewell to their comrades and follow the principals, while others stay put or physically try to stop them. These scenes occur on a staircase cluttered with make-shift barricades and located on the main red-brick courtyard that connects to an external street. Filmed laterally and from a distance, the protagonists’ body language clearly and poignantly expresses hesitation, grief, rage, and resignation, despite the fact that their faces are unseen. After the recording of a final and spectacular escape through the sewer system, the film ends with a list of protesters arrested after the siege.
The appearance and attitude of protesters has drastically changed from Taking, and the filmmakers reflect this evolution in scenes where we see faceless protagonists preparing fire bombs, training in archery, insulting the police, and fiercely arguing among themselves about their basic survival. We also see them discussing escape plans, chatting leisurely, taking a break in the sun, eating and resting, and displaying the same spirit of collaboration as before, while at the same time looking exhausted and hardened. As in the last films in Kanas Liu’s series, protesters are also often shot from behind, or from afar, and all faces, except for those of police, legislators, and principals, are blurred.
The siege is mainly filmed within the campus, except during escape sequences where the filmmakers accompanied protesters onto roads around the university to follow their desperate escapes and, often, inevitable arrests. If the Legco occupation was threatened by an imminent crackdown, here police appear in many chase sequences, and we hear the sound of their voices, loud songs mocking the protesters, and tear gas smoke, fire, and water exchanged between them and the protesters. Many scenes are recorded at night during police clashes lit only by Molotov cocktails, laser beams, and dim street lighting, or indoors in an environment that becomes increasingly chaotic. Whereas protesters’ civic-mindedness and cleanliness on the occupation site were a major feature of news coverage and film representation of the Umbrella movement, here their efforts to maintain a tidy, model occupied zone are replaced by the more urgent task of defending themselves from an invasion or finding ways to vanish back into the anonymous city. Garbage bins are overflowing, classrooms are used as storage space for various defensive equipment, and gymnasiums are turned into littered sleeping areas. In this dystopian space, there is very little time to voice demands, to discuss ideology, and to articulate political discourses. Here and there, tagged slogans on the walls and familiar songs resonate to remind us of the protesters’ initial impulse for the movement.
Whereas they benefitted from some fluidity of movement in Taking, the anonymous filmmakers here are stuck on campus and in a delicate position. Cut off from the outside, they experienced first-hand the pressure of the siege, while their cameras created a distance between them and wary protesters. However, for the first time “since the start of the movement five months ago, (…) people would gather, discuss, live, and eat. The ambiguity of the collective disappeared, and individual characteristics emerged. We could understand who they were, and during canteen meals, they would take off their mask and talk. We decided to stay” (Lin 2021). Quieter observational moments in the film reflect the possibility of actual exchanges between protesters and filmmakers, on the campus restaurant filled with famished youngsters or during rare small conversations where someone shares, half-desperate, half-laughing, their eagerness to find themselves in bed at home. After several days on campus, surrounded by police, and with no way out of the university, protesters are on the verge of breakdowns, and filmmakers wonder if it is ethical to film them shaken by fear and emotion (Hsieh 2021). Soon, “On February 18, however, despite continuous escapes by protesters,” these concerns are compounded by the filmmakers’ own “inability to film,” as they realize that “more important things should be done than filming” (Lin 2021)—for instance, sharing simple interactions with protesters while they wait for an outcome. Defining their position as observers, participants, filmmakers, or comrades among “the ruins of the campus” (Lin 2021) became, therefore, increasingly difficult for the filmmakers: “throughout the whole movement, my identity was very fluid, and since the movement keeps on changing it’s hard to define. Different identities overlap and compete together” (Hsieh 2021). Filmmakers talk about feeling “like part of the crowd, but with a different role,” and are reluctant to call themselves “comrades” (Lin 2021). In witnessing the protesters’ dilemmas, they “see beyond ideology (…) the kind of trauma brought to each individual who participate in a protest movement, how it influences them, and this is what (we) want to say” (Lin 2021). Conversely, the shared experience with ordinary protesters made them realize their own individuality: “before being a documentarist, I am a person” (Hsieh 2021).
Although the speed of production of documentary images and their circulation increase thanks to press coverage and the dissemination possibilities offered by the internet and social media, these documentaries focusing on key moments in the Hong Kong protests force us to pause and examine the individuals who dedicate themselves to this collective cause, and to experience with them the angst, exhilaration, and dilemmas engendered by their involvement in the protests. In tune with the movement, the filmmakers’ collaborative (Kanas Liu) or collective (anonymous group) work method resonates with the fluid structure of these largely horizontal, leaderless protests. Instead of informing, as live broadcasts or didactic macro documentaries tend to do, these films’ contribution lies in the deeper understanding of the psychological state of protest participants, and how they manage to articulate, not always without tensions, their individuality with the collective.
As in other activist documentaries, the protests’ urgency forces these filmmakers to reconsider the production and circulation of their work, opting for seriality and speed of dissemination in the case of Kanas Liu, or selecting two paroxysmal moments in the case of the filmmakers’ collective. Far from being univocal or simplistic, these documentaries narrate experiences of participants and filmmakers that resonate strongly with a local audience who, when given the chance, flocked to screening venues to watch in a sort of plebiscite both for the films and for the halted pro-democracy movement. In these seven documentaries, one can measure the devastating effect of Hong Kong’s political crackdown and its impact on protest modes, their actors, and ordinary people’s lives. This impact is not only visible in recorded scenes of street confrontations, but also in the filmic approach, the framing and editing of the documentaries. A largely anonymous and collective representation of protesters is perhaps one of the major differences between these films and those on the Umbrella movement. However, although they had to mostly focus on unidentifiable actors, the filmmakers’ proximity to them, their collective or collaborative method, and their choice of keeping away from the frontline did at times allow the individuality of protesters to shine through. Likewise, in the dystopian space of PolyU, moments of poetic contemplation and humane interaction emerge. Although they strive to “get as close as possible” to their protagonists, the directors could, for the most part, only film anonymous people, their identity and emotions covered by masks and digital blurring, their personal stories unknowable for fear of legal risks. When stakes are too high and emotions too raw, the recording simply stops, and we understand that stories of comradery between filmmakers and protagonists happened out of our sight. As the filmmakers recall, these moments were best experienced as connected individuals in a situation of crisis, rather than as distant observers (Hsieh 2021). These shared experiences of comradery and political suffering made the filmmakers more aware of their own individuality, their identity no longer being defined by the act of filming but by the feeling of belonging to a community in protest.
Two years after the events depicted in these documentaries, the filmmakers and their protagonists are still processing their experiences and the consequences of the 2019 pro-democracy movement. With the passing of the National Security Law, their traumas are compounded by increasing control over free speech, constant arrests, court cases, prison verdicts, and migrations out of Hong Kong. For the time being, protests are almost impossible to conduct in Hong Kong and documenting them has become risky. The local documentary scene, with its independent filmmakers, engaged festivals, and small venues has become one of the targets of the authorities, making their fragile yet interconnected work more akin to those of independent filmmakers in the Mainland. In this changing environment, one wonders if local festivals will be able to continue releasing documentaries such as those from the collective or even if the online circulation of shorts such as Kanas Liu’s will be sustainable in the future.
Anonymous, Hong Kong, 5 October 2020, in Mandarin.
Chan Tze-woon, Hong Kong, 16 April 2018, in English.
Tammy Cheung, Hong Kong; 17 April 2018, in English.
Vincent Chui, Hong Kong, 5 October 2020, in English.
Kanas Liu, Skype, 5 March 2021, in English.
Sam Tsang, Hong Kong, 5 October 2020, in Mandarin.
To Liao, Hong Kong, 19 October 2018, in English and Mandarin.
Chan, Debby Sze-wan, and Ngai Pun. 2020. “Economic Power of the Politically Powerless in the 2019 Hong Kong Pro-democracy Movement.” Critical Asian Studies (Jan.): 1–11. DOI: 10.1080/14672715.2019.1708019.
Chan, Kin Man, and Vitrierat Ng. 2017. “Localism, Radicalism and Cynicism in Post-Umbrella Movement Hong Kong.” Mainland China Studies 601: 19–36.
Cui, Weiping 崔卫平. 2005. “Luying Liliang–Shehui yundong jilupian” 録影力量——社会运动纪录片 (Video Power – Social Movement Documentaries). Ai Sixiang. http://www.aisixiang.com/data/6497.html.
He, Rowena. 2020. “To Lead or Not to Lead: Campus Standoff in Hong Kong’s Water Movement.” Journal of International Affairs, vol. 73, no. 2: 119–34, https://www.jstor.org/stable/26939969.
Hsieh, Yi-Hsuan 謝以萱. 2021. “Zhuanfang ‘Zhanling Lifahui’ ‘LiDa Wei Cheng’ chuangzuo tuandui: Dang xiaoyuan huang ru feixu, renmen nicang yu taosheng…” 專訪《佔領立法會》《理大圍城》創作團隊：當校園恍如廢墟，人們匿藏與逃生… (Interview with the creative team of Taking Back the Legislature and Inside the Red Brick Wall: When the campus turns into ruins, people hide and escape…). The Initium (Feb. 15).
Ingham, Michael. 2012. “Twenty years on: Hong Kong dissident documentarians and the Tiananmen factor.” Studies in Documentary Film 6, no. 1: 81–97.
Ingham, Michael. 2015. “A Personal Vision of the Hong Kong Cityscape in Anson Mak’s Essayistic Documentary Films One Way Street on a Turntable and On the Edge of a Floating City, We Sing.” In Camille Deprez and Judith Pernin, eds., Post-1990 Documentary: Reconfiguring Independence. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 151–168.
Ingham, Michael. 2019. “Too Much Reality? Reflections on the Educational-Observational Film World of Tammy Cheung and Augustine Lam.” Ex-position, no. 42: 139–153.
Ku, Agnes Shuk-mei. 2020. “New Forms of Youth Activism: Hong Kong’s Anti-Extradition Bill Movement in the Local-national-global Nexus.” Space and Polity no. 241: 111–117. DOI: 10.1080/13562576.2020.1732201.
Lee, Francis Lap-Fung, Samson Yuen, Gary Tang, and Edmund Wai Cheng. 2019. “Hong Kong’s Summer of Uprising: From Anti-Extradition to Anti-Authoritarian Protests.” China Review 19, no. 4: 1–32. Accessed July 6, 2021. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26838911.
Lee, Francis Lap-Fung. 2019. “Solidarity in the Anti-Extradition Bill Movement in Hong Kong.” Critical Asian Studies 521: 1–15. DOI: 10.1080/14672715.2020.1700629.
Lee, Francis Lap-Fung, Hai Liang, Edmund Wai Cheng, Gary Tang, and Samson Yuen. 2021. “Affordances, movement dynamics, and LIHKG as a centralized communication platform in the 2019 Hong Kong protests.” Information, Communication & Society. DOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2021.1877772.
Lin, Wood 林木材. 2020. “Xiangxin jiyi zhi liliang– dujia zhuanfang ‘Zhanling Lifahui’ niming Xianggang jilupian gongzuozhe” 相信記憶之力量──獨家專訪《佔領立法會》匿名香港紀錄片工作者 (Trusting the power of memory – An exclusive interview with the anonymous Hong Kong documentary film workers behind Taking Back the Legislature). Baodaozhe Taiwan Reporter (Nov. 11). Accessed 4/18/21.
Lin, Wood 林木材. 2021. “‘LiDa Wei Cheng’: Yi chang mei you mingzi he liankong de yundong yu paishe, jilu benshen jiu shi kangzheng” 《理大圍城》：一場沒有名字和臉孔的運動與拍攝，記錄本身就是抗爭 (Inside the Red Brick Wall: an anonymous and faceless movement and shooting, in which recording itself is resisting). Baodaozhe Taiwan Reporter (April 18).
Marchetti, Gina. 2017. “Hong Kong as Feminist Method: Gender, Sexuality, and Democracy in Two Documentaries by Tammy Cheung.” In Yiu-Wai Chu, ed., Hong Kong Culture and Society in the New Millennium, Singapore: Springer Singapore, 59–76.
Marchetti, Gina. 2019. “Sexual Citizenship and Social Justice in the HKSAR: Evans Chan’s Raise the Umbrellas (2016).” Jumpcut, no. 59.
Ng, Kenny Kwok-kwan. 2019. “Looking through My Fly’s-Eye View: Chan Tze-woon’s Documentary of the 2014 Umbrella Movement.” Ex-position, no. 42: 89–117.
Ng, Terrie. 2021. “Protesting with Text and Image: Four Publications on the 2019 Pro-democracy Movement from Hong Kong Civil Society.” China Perspectives, 2021/1, 55–60. DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/chinaperspectives.11459.
Nornes, Abé Mark. 2007. Forest of Pressure: Ogawa Shinsuke and Postwar Japanese Documentary. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Pang, Laikwan. 2020. The Appearing Demos: Hong Kong During and After the Umbrella Movement. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Park, Young-a. 2015. Unexpected Alliances: Independent Filmmakers, the State, and the Film Industry in Postauthoritarian South Korea. Redwood City: Stanford University Press.
Pernin, Judith. 2020. “Protest Documentaries in Taiwan and Hong Kong: From the Late 1980s to the Sunflower and Umbrella Movements.” In Thomas B. Gold and Sebastian Veg, eds., Sunflowers and Umbrellas: Social Movements, Expressive Practices, and Political Culture in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 176–200.
Tam, Enoch Yee-lok. 2019. “A Turn to the Politics of Place in Hong Kong Independent Documentaries.” Ex-position, no. 42: 155–168.
Ting, Chun-chun. 2013. “The Star and the Queen: Heritage Conservation and the Emergence of a New Hong Kong Subject.” Modern Chinese Literature and Culture 25, no. 2: 80–129. www.jstor.org/stable/43492534. Accessed 7/12/21.
Ting, Tin-yuet. 2020. “From ‘Be Water’ to ‘Be Fire’: Nascent Smart Mob and Networked Protests in Hong Kong.” Social Movement Studies no. 193: 362–8. DOI: 10.1080/14742837.2020.1727736.
Van den Troost, Kristof. 2020. “Propagandist or Objective Observer? Independent Documentaries in/on Hong Kong’s Recent Social movements.” Asian Education and Development Studies (November 10). DOI: 10.1108/AEDS-08-2020-0190.
Van den Troost, Kristof. 2021a. “Interview with Vincent Chui. Hong Kong Independent Filmmaker and Artistic Director of Ying E Chi.” Off Screen 25, no. 2–3 (March).
Van den Troost, Kristof. 2021b. “Interview with Hong Kong Director Nora Tam.” Offscreen 25, no. 2–3 (March).
Veg, Sebastian. 2016. “Creating a Textual Public space. Slogans and Texts from Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement.” Journal of Asian Studies 75, no. 3: 673–702.
Veg, Sebastian. 2020. “Music in the Umbrella movement. From expressive Form to New Political culture”. In Thomas B. Gold and Sebastian Veg, eds., Sunflowers and Umbrellas: Social Movements, Expressive Practices, and Political Culture in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, 147–175.
White, Cameron L. 2021. “Pixels, Police, and Batons: Hong Kong Cinema, Digital Media, the 2019 Protests, and Beyond.” Film Quarterly 74, no. 3: 9–22. DOI: 10.1525/fq.2021.74.3.9
Wong, Sampson and Leung, Cheuk-hang. 2019. “Praxis of Cultivating Civic Spontaneity: Aesthetic Intervention in the Umbrella Movement.” In Ngok, Ma, Samson Yuen and Edmund Cheng, eds. Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement: New Boundaries of Resistance in a Hybrid Regime. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 125–148.
Yau, Esther. 2017. “What Can Small Festivals Do? Toward Film Festivals as Testimony to Expanded Civic Engagement in Post-Handover Hong Kong.” Chinese Film Festivals. New York: Palgrave Macmillan US, 141–67.
Yee, Winnie. 2019. “Of Activism and the Land: Ecological and Utopian Visions of Post-Handover Hong Kong Documentaries.” Ex-position, no. 42: 119–137.
Yuen, Samson and Sanho Chung. 2018. “Explaining Localism in Post-handover Hong Kong: An Eventful Approach.” China Perspectives, 2018/3: 19–29.
Yuen, Samson. and Cheng, Edmund Wai. 2018. “Rethinking contentious politics in Hong Kong: change and continuity.” Hong Kong Studies, vol. 1, no. 1: 7–25.
Yuen, Samson. 2019. “Hong Kong Protests: Why Are People Demonstrating? How We Surveyed Protestors.” Political Quarterly (Oct. 16). Accessed 11/15/19.
Documentaries on the 2019 Protests
Ai, Weiwei. 2020. Cockroach. 93 min.
Anonymous. 2020. Always in My Mind 佚名. 念念不忘. 41 min.
Bishof, Joshua S. 2020. Burn with us. 99 min.
Cheung, Hoi-kit 張凱傑. 2020. Save PolyU 紅磚危城. 60 min.
Chow, Kiwi 周冠威. 2021. Revolution of our Times 時代革命. 152 min.
Documentary Filmmaker KR 紀錄片工作者KR. 2020. Insurgent 傾城. 32 min.
Hammer, Anders Sømme. 2020. Do Not Split. 35 min.
Hong Kong documentary filmmakers 香港紀錄片工作者. 2019. Taking back the Legislature 佔領立法會. 44 min.
Hong Kong documentary filmmakers 香港紀錄片工作者. 2019. Inside the Red Brick Wall 理大圍城. 45 min.
Horii, Ikuma 堀井威久麿. 2020. Hong Kong-Ga 香港画. 28 min.
Kong, King-chu 江瓊珠. 2020. One Country, Through Torture 刑．暴．誌–記抗爭者. 48 min.
Leong, James and Lee, Lynn. 2020. If we Burn. 90 min.
Liu, Kanas 廖潔雯 and Sam Tsang 曾錦山. Not One Less 缺一不可. 15 min.
Liu, Kanas 廖潔雯. 2019. Trial and Error. 12 min.
Liu, Kanas 廖潔雯. 2019. Comrades 手足. 15 min.
Liu, Kanas 廖潔雯. 2019. Be Water. 16 min.
Liu, Kanas 廖潔雯. 2019. The Time of the Individual 用自己方式的時代. 13 min.
Lo, King-wah 盧敬華. 2020. March on, In Defiance of Tyranny 社區反送中前進. 86 min.
Mak, Anson. 2021. Fear(less) and Dear 誠惶(不)誠恐，親愛的.106 min.
Ngo, Jennifer. 2021. Faceless. 82 min.
SCMP. 2020. China’s Rebel City: The Hong Kong Protests. 67 min.
small Documentary Filmmaker 小小紀錄片工作者. 2020. Looking for 1997 尋找，1997. 24 min.
Tang, Heyson 鄧卓儒and Nora Lam 林子穎. 2020. Glory to Hong Kong 榮光燦爛. 30 min.
Selected Hong Kong Protest Documentaries
Chan, Evans 陳耀成. 2016. Raise the Umbrellas 撐傘. 120 min.
Chan, Ho-lun Freddie 陳浩倫. 2015. Open Road after Harvest 收割, 開路!. 100 min.
Chan, Ho-lun Freddie 陳浩倫. 2012. The Way of Paddy 稻米是如何鍊成的. 128 min.
Chan, Yiu-hei 陳耀熙. 2015. Kong Rice 港米. 15 min.
Chan, Tze-woon 陳梓桓. 2016. Yellowing 亂世備忘. 128 min.
Cheung, King-si Tim 張敬時. 2015. More than Conquerors 世代同行. 84 min.
Cheung, Tammy 張虹. 2004. July 七月. 70 min.
Cheung, Tammy 張虹. 2008. Election 選舉.130 min.
Collective “Film 75”. 2016. 75 Days: Life, Liberty and Happiness 傘．聚. 130 min.
Chu, Birdy 朱迅. 2016. Umbrellas Move 傘步. 87 min.
Huang, Sunny 黃雨晴. 2015. Karl. 25 min.
Kaeding, Malte Philipp. 2019. 香港本色, Black Bauhinia. 72 min.
Kwok, Tat Chun 郭達俊 and Kong King Chu 江瓊珠. 2015. Almost a Revolution 幾乎是, 革命. 174 min.
Lam, Kempton. 2015. Umbrella Revolution: History as Mirror Reflection 雨傘革命實錄: 以史為鏡. 110 min.
Lam, Tze-wing Nora 林子穎. 2017. Lost in the Fumes 地厚天高. 97 min.
Lam, Tze-wing Nora 林子穎 and Samuel Wong Chun-long 黃頌朗. 2016. Road Not Taken 未竟之路. 65 min.
Leong, James and Lynn Lee. 2018. First Umbrella 傘上: 遍地開花. 119 min.
Leong, James and Lynn Lee, Al Jazeera. 2015. First Umbrella. 75 min.
Liao, To 廖韜. 2018. Like an Abortion, for the Very First Time 扯旗、我要真普選和⋯⋯. 93 min.
Liu, Kanas 廖潔雯. 2015. Van Drivers 義載. 23 min.
Liu, Kanas 廖潔雯. 2016. Van Drivers 2 義載 2. 97 min.
Lo, Yan-wai Connie 羅恩惠. 2017. Vanished Archives 消失的檔案. 120 min.
Mak, Anson 麥海珊. 2007. One Way Street on a Turntable 唱盤上的單行道. 74 min.
Mak, Anson 麥海珊. 2012. On the Edge of the Floating City, We Sing 在浮城的角落唱首歌. 120 min.
Piscatella, Joe. 2017. Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower. 118 min.
Shu, Kei 舒琪. 1990. Sunless Days 沒有太陽的日子. 90 min.
Torne, Matthew. 2018. Last Exit to Kai Tak 分域大道. 130 min.
To, Can 杜紹玲. 2017. Yp 1967. 117 min.
V-artivist 影行者 and supporting group of Choi Yuen Village 菜園村支援組. 2009. A Record of Choi Yuen Village 菜園紀事. 80 min.
V-artivist 影行者 and supporting group of Choi Yuen Village 菜園村支援組. 2010. Breaking New Ground through Thorns and Thistles 蓽路藍縷. 120 min.
V-artivist 影行者 and supporting group of Choi Yuen Village 菜園村支援組. 2012. Three Valleys 三谷. 310 min.
Wong, Kai-chun Kaiser 黃家進 and Daniel Chin Ho-cheung 張展豪, 2018. Chronicle of a Summer 夏日紀事. 90 min.
[*] Judith Pernin is currently an independent researcher based in Ireland. She is author of Pratiques indépendantes du documentaire en Chine: Histoire, esthétique et discours visuels (1990-2010) and co-editor of Post-1990 Documentary: Reconfiguring Independence. The author would like to thank all the people interviewed in this essay, as well as Sebastian Veg and Alexis Lycas for their feedback.
 See, for instance Chronicle of a Summer and Lost in the Fumes. Full references appear in the filmography below.
 See Van Drivers and Van Drivers 2 as well as Yellowing and 75 Days.
 See Like an Abortion, for the Very First Time and the above-mentioned Lost in the Fumes.
 I borrow the expression from Yuen and Cheng (2018: 14), who define it as such: “Contentious politics, in essence, operates like a field. Structured by its own norms and rules, this ‘movement field’ consists of a constellation of actors—state actors, non-state actors and quasi-state actors—that occupy different positions and interact with one another to compete for valued capital surrounding social and political issues. In the hope of transforming the field to their advantages, these actors behave and strategize with respect to threats and opportunities, create and appropriate mobilizing structures, and deploy repertoires and frames to make contentious claims on others—in very much the same way as in the dynamics of contention framework.”
 Nora Tam, Sam Tsang and many other documentary filmmakers contribute their photographs to the press. Singaporean journalists James Leong and Lynn Lee also work across different media (television reportage, documentary films, social media postings). See If we Burn in the filmography below.
 See: https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3112921/chinas-rebel-city-watch-complete-version-scmps-gripping.
 暗夜星辰, 92 min, 2020. coproduced with Phoenix TV and available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQ7sDTT9kPQ. For a discussion on online representations of the police, see White: 2021.
 See post on HKIDF Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/hongkongidf/posts/2692206694204007.
 See https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-49939173.
 The selected films were screened at Berlin International Film Festival, Chicago Film Festival, the DMZ Film Festival, and the Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival to great acclaim. See https://www.tidf.org.tw/en/news/92442.
 See filmography above.
 Kanas Liu released a rough cut of her shorts three days after shooting, and Taking was edited over three days only.
 Ying e Chi, distributor of the two anonymous documentaries, had their funding withdrawn https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3139612/hong-kong-protests-film-distributor-has-funding-cut-after. Film Censorship guidelines were amended on June 11, 2021: https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/202106/11/P2021061100239.htm, and a retroactive ban on films deemed to damage national security threaten even films that were previously authorized for screening: https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3146173/national-security-law-hong-kong-censorship-law-changes-open. These changes affect the whole creative industry: https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3146227/hong-kong-creative-industry-shrouded-worries-and-fears-amid
 The English translations of interviews in Chinese are my own.
 Cantonese transcription of common terms in Jyutping is adopted in this article, unless pinyin is preferred for terms in Mandarin.
 LIHKD forum or 吹水台 available on https://lihkg.com. See Lee et al. 2021.
 See a chronology of events on https://www.hrichina.org/en/hong-kong-timeline-2019-2021-anti-extradition-protests-national-security-law.
 To quote Rowena He (2020: 119): “The approach was inspired by Hong Kong martial arts icon Bruce Lee’s philosophy that water is shapeless and formless, able to flow and crash, which captured the essence of the decentralized movement. That image of the power of water ultimately derives from the classic Daoist text Dao de Jing, traditionally ascribed to Lao Zi.”
 See 31st August’s Prince Edward MTR incident, https://hongkongfp.com/2019/09/01/violence-erupts-across-hong-kong-police-fire-warning-shots-mtr-closes-5-lines-officers-storm-train-carriage/
 Sam Tsang for instance, explains that as a slightly older cameraman, he was at times suspected of being from the HKPF, or an informant (interview).
 Quoted from a communication with a member of the anonymous group.
 Other filmmakers readily lent footage to each other. Nora Lam, has for instance contributed images to Malte Philipp Kaeding’s Black Bauhinia and Evans Chan’s We Have Boots.
 Other filmmakers have since adopted anonymous nicknames, see filmography.
 Curiously, the closing credits of some films announce a “group of independent documentary filmmakers (一群獨立紀錄片工作者),” while credits below the videos on Vimeo are attributed to her, and her co-workers. See https://vimeo.com/user49663849. This is also the case for Revolution of our Time, “a film by Hongkongers” directed by Kiwi Chow Kwun-wai 周冠威.
 The Chinese expression “用自己方式” is borrowed from an interviewed protester by Kanas and means that it’s up to individuals to take matter in their own hands, without waiting for actions or orders from the top.
 See https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3022782/global-times-journalist-beaten-hong-kong-protesters-given.
 See: https://hongkongfp.com/2019/06/15/man-protesting-hong-kongs-extradition-law-unconscious-jumping-mall-admiralty/.
 See for instance, Gwyneth Ho’s coverage for Stand News: https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=396854391177695&ref=watch_permalink.
 The occupation was staged between 11 and 15 November: https://qz.com/1746924/police-students-battle-in-chinese-university-of-hong-kong/.
 Funding for Ying e Chi, for instance, have been withdrawn due to their promotion of the independent documentaries studied in this article, while the whole Hong Kong film industry feels targeted by the new rules over censorship. See, for instance, https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3138081/national-security-law-hong-kong-film-censors-government, https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3125584/hong-kong-protests-documentary-covering-polytechnic, and https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/28/world/asia/hong-kong-movie-censor.html.