Hong Kong Umbrella Movement Documentary To Get Limited Screening


2016-11-16
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hong-kong-umbrella-movement-aug2-2015.jpg A protester holds a yellow umbrella, the symbol of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement in front of police in Hong Kong, Aug. 2, 2015.
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A documentary on the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong will be shown to a limited audience after a public screening was canceled by the Asia Society.

"Raise the Umbrellas," by independent filmmaker, writer, and critic Evans Chan, was to have been shown at the Hong Kong branch of the Asia Society on Tuesday, but was canceled.

A spokesperson for the Asia Society in Hong Kong told RFA on Wednesday that the event had been canceled because the subsequent symposium had only invited pro-democracy speakers.

However, the Foreign Correspondents' Club (FCC) of Hong Kong will screen the film on Nov. 28 for its members and their guests.

The cancellation comes as journalists, lawyers, and diplomats say that the city's traditional freedoms of speech and publication are being eroded fast, in spite of promises of a "high degree of autonomy" under the terms of its 1997 handover from Britain to China.

The film chronicles the 79-day "Umbrella movement" through the eyes of veteran democrat Martin Lee, Occupy Central organizer Benny Tai, and teenage student protest leader Joshua Wong.

It delves deeper into the movement, which saw older people camping out on the tarmac of Hong Kong's main roads alongside students, pro-democracy politicians, celebrities, actors, and pop stars in protest at Beijing's plans for the city's political future.

The movement dismissed as "fake universal suffrage" a ruling by China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), that election candidates must be vetted by a committee hand-picked by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

However, the film also includes a number of anti-Occupy voices, who argued that the protests ran a greater political risk, according to a posting on the FCC website.

An employee who answered the phone at the FCC said journalists would be allowed to attend the screening alongside club members and their guests.

Asked if the film had been hastily moved to the FCC in the wake of the cancellation of its planned Asia Society screening, the employee said: "That I don't know."

Confusing response

Bruce Lui, senior journalism lecturer at Hong Kong's Baptist University, said the Asia Society's response was confusing.

"Was it a documentary screening, or was it a discussion?" Lui said. "There are all kinds of reasons to cancel an event, and wishing to preserve balance is a good one."

"But why not just present it purely as a screening [without the debate] in that case?"

He said behind-the-scenes political influence on the society couldn't be ruled out.

"A lot of groups, whether local or overseas, have to maintain a certain level of relationship with mainland China," Lui said.

"That means that if they can stay away from certain sensitive topics, they will--sometimes for strategic reasons--so as not to rock the boat [with China]."

And Chan Tze-woon, the director of another documentary about the Umbrella movement, told the Hong Kong Free Press newswire that the cancellation was in line with his experience.

"Chan said that it has been challenging to get his film 'Yellowing' into the mainstream venues like commercial cinemas in Hong Kong, although it has been broadcast on Taiwanese public TV and screened at festivals in Vancouver and Taiwan," the news service reported.

The New York-based Asia Society is an educational nonprofit organization whose Hong Kong center was established without local funding, according to its official website.

It receives its funding from foundations, corporations, and individuals who wish to "build bridges of understanding between Americans and Asians," it said.

Reported by Lee Lai for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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