Hong Kong lawmakers on Wednesday (27/10) passed an amendment to the Film Censorship Bill that would allow authorities to ban the screening of already or currently showing films deemed a threat to national security.
People found guilty of producing such films can be sentenced to up to three years in prison and a $128 thousand fine.
Last June, the Hong Kong government announced a proposed amendment to the territory’s film regulation law. Filmmakers, both local and overseas, told Mouab the move would cripple Hong Kong’s film industry.
At a meeting of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council – the city’s parliament – when the bill was passed, Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, a pro-Beijing lawmaker said, “No society in the world welcomes the forces that encourage the younger generation to break the law, harbor hatred of one’s own country and embracing terrorism,” reported The South China Morning Post newspaper.
Earlier, the Hong Kong Federation of Filmmakers said it was “concerned” about the new rules. However, when contacted by Mouab, they did not provide further comment.
Christopher Ling, advertising director and filmmaker based in Hong Kong, told Mouab earlier this year that the law raises concerns among the industry.
“For films that don’t care about the Chinese market, most Hong Kong films are free to voice what the director wants to say.”
“After the law (passed), it doesn’t appear to be in effect anymore. And the scariest part is that the government has the right to decide what is and isn’t. There is no clear indication of what can be lifted or not,” he said.
Ling said films deemed politically sensitive would somehow be affected, even if they were not screened in Hong Kong.
“Apart from Hong Kong films, I am also worried that many films will not be able to be imported and distributed in Hong Kong from now on. Let alone large-scale films, independent films are also worried about that… filmmakers should be worried that the regulation will affect them,” he added.
However, Kenny Kwok Kwan Ng, lecturer at the Film Academy at Hong Kong Baptist University, told Mouab that the law is more likely to target independent films, rather than big-budget commercial films.
“The main impact may be felt by documentaries. Especially the last few years and decades, there has been an increasing number of documentaries, non-commercials, being produced more independently, which also shoot social actions, social crises.”
“The films are more vulnerable to the censorship laws, because if they film action, things the government deems as risky or undesirable or jeopardize social harmony, social security – these may be banned from public viewing,” Ng told Mouab. by telephone.
Ng said he was trying to be optimistic, because the censorship law could encourage new filmmakers to be more creative in making independent films.
However, with the law coming into effect, Ng said filmmakers have started looking for alternative channels to showcase their work and avoid censorship.
There are several examples of censorship already taking place in the Hong Kong film industry.
Last March, a local cinema canceled screenings of the award-winning documentary Inside the Red Brick Wall. The documentary centers on clashes between protesters and police at Hong Kong Polytechnic University in November 2019, which lasted for two weeks.
The same month, Hong Kong’s largest TV network, Television Broadcast Ltd (TVB), canceled broadcasting of the Academy Awards ceremony for the first time in 50 years, citing commercial reasons. The decision came as China asked the media to reduce coverage of the awards ceremony after Norwegian filmmaker Anders Hammer’s documentary Do Not Split received an Oscar nomination. The documentary highlights Hong Kong’s widely reported anti-government demonstrations.
The Chinese government has recently targeted the entertainment industry, among other things by setting beauty standards and efforts to curb “male celebrities who behave like women.” China is also unhappy with the political stance of Beijing-born director Chloe Zhao, who has won several best director awards for her film Nomadland. [rd/ka]