Interview: 'A Documentary Reminds us Not to Forget'

Taiwanese documentary film-maker and festival curator Wood Lin explains why he led a recent festival with protest films out of Hong Kong.
2021-05-25
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Interview: 'A Documentary Reminds us Not to Forget' Taiwanese documentary film-maker Wood Lin discussed the films he curated about the 2019 Hong Kong protest movement at this year's Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival.
RFA

Taiwanese documentary film-maker Wood Lin curated a series of films about the 2019 Hong Kong protest movement at this year's Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival (TIDF).

Lin kicked off the festival with a screening of "Inside the Red Walls", a frontline account of the 12-day standoff that ensued when riot police besieged the campus of Hong Kong's Polytechnic University (PolyU), prompting students and protesters to build barricades and fight back with makeshift weapons including petrol bombs.

His decision to screen the films came after a screening of "Inside Red Walls" was canceled by the Hong Kong Film Critics Society following strident criticism from the pro-China media in the city.

Lin spoke to RFA's Cantonese Service about a sense of solidarity between the people of Hong Kong, mainland China and Taiwan in their struggles against state violence and authoritarian rule.
 
"The function of a documentary is to remind us not to forget, and to reflect on the future," said Lin, who lives in a country that made the transition from authoritarian dictatorship under the Kuomintang to a fully democratic society in the 1990s.

"There are complex and ambivalent political relationships between China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and Hong Kong and Taiwan have been through a lot together," Lin said, citing the ultimately successful Sunflower Movement that occupied Taiwan's parliament in protest at closer ties with China, and the Hong Kong protest movements, as well as the 1989 student-led democracy movement on Tiananmen Square.

"Their experiences complement each other," Lin said, adding that Taiwanese audiences haven't had much opportunity recently to see in-depth work that "reflects the fears and anxieties of the people of Hong Kong over the past two years."

"We seldom look at the [2019] protest movement from within, through its own eyes," he said. "We usually see it viewed through the lens of the media or from a more neutral and objective perspective."

"These films are an in-depth record of what the protesters feel when faced with the dangers they were in, and concerns about the future," Lin said.

"For example, the fact that remaining in the protest movement could bring down even more severe state violence down on your head."

"On the other hand, quitting looks like abandoning your comrades, and yet you have no idea how the government will retaliate against you in the future," Lin said. "It's an in-depth look at the mood of the protesters; the whole protest movement in Hong Kong from 2014 to now is worth looking at."

Documentary as historical archive

 "You don't get this so much in European and American films, because they basically follow the traditional story arc of resistance, in which they know they have to keep fighting for their rights," he said. "But Hong Kong had no such precedents to follow."

According to Lin, a documentary functions in much the same way as a historical archive, or a secret file that will be released to the world at a later date.

"In a situation where you have no freedom, it's like a file that will one day be made public, and subjected to interpretation," Lin said.

Asked if there is any creative space left for film-makers who remain in Hong Kong, where a city-wide crackdown on peaceful dissent and political opposition is being waged under the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s National Security Law for Hong Kong, Lin thought for a while, then replied: "I don't know."

 The title of "Inside the Red Walls" refers to the red brick walls of the PolyU campus, where some 1,300 people were arrested during the siege, while around 300 people were sent to hospital with injuries related to water cannon blast, tear gas, and rubber bullets,

Rights groups hit out at the Hong Kong police for 'fanning the flames' of violence as desperate protesters were trapped for several days inside the campus, while hundreds more waged pitched battles with riot police in Kowloon.

The U.S.-based group Human Rights in China condemned police action in and around Poly U, "trapping students, journalists, and first aiders, and reportedly handcuffing the latter group."

Small groups of protesters continued to make desperate bids for freedom throughout the siege, many of them only to end up being arrested and beaten bloody by police.

Police deployed tear gas, water cannon, and rubber bullets against a crowd trying to push through towards Poly U from Jordan district, with hundreds forming human chains to pass bricks, umbrellas, and other supplies to front-line fighters.

Reported by Man Hoi Yan for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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