A proposed new law that will inject national security elements into Hong Kong’s censorship system has the city’s filmmakers worried. The law allows government officials retrospective power to change previously-issued exhibition approvals and provides for three year jail terms in case of breach.
“We are very worried,” Tenky Tin, chair of the Federation of Hong Kong Filmmakers’ executive committee, told Variety. “Our greatest concern is whether we would be breaking the law.”
“The trade has a lot of questions. We have had meetings with officials, mainly to ask them what’s allowed and what’s not…. But the government hasn’t been able to give any concrete answer,” Mabel Cheung, a prominent director and producer of the quintessential Hong Kong feel-good movie “Echoes of the Rainbow,” told broadcaster RTHK on Wednesday.
Cheung also expressed worries over the proposal that filmmakers have no appeal mechanism if the censors invoke national security objections. Their only avenue is through a judicial review in court.
Other filmmakers say that the new law brings greater risks for investors. This may cause funding for the industry to dry up.
Commerce minister Edward Yau said on Tuesday that the amendments to the Film Censorship Ordinance were examples of the July 2021 National Security Law being implemented across all sectors. He said that legislation will provide a clear legal framework for regulation of the sector.
The creative nature of the filmmaking, however, makes it challenging to align the sector with the new, hard-line national security concerns, Tin said. There are serious concerns over whether fictional incidents, such as crime, challenges to police or terrorism, could lead to national security trouble for filmmakers, he said.
Tin cited the case in 2018 where two props makers were found guilty of possessing counterfeit money, because the imitation banknotes they provided for the crime film “Trivisa” looked too realistic, despite being clearly marked as props. In future, such a case could be considered a national security offence.
Amendments to the guidelines for film censors were introduced in June and the proposed changes to the film censorship law, likely to take effect from September, follow the March cancellation of screenings of “Inside the Red Brick Wall.” The award-winning documentary feature about the 2019 Hong Kong protests had been approved by censors, but exhibitors came under pressure from pro-Beijing media to cancel the release.
The film’s non-profit distributor Ying E Chi has continued to be a target of state-owned media and has had its grant from the Arts Development Council canceled. On Tuesday, the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre also declined to renew the lease on Ying E Chi’s office. The distributor will have to move to new premises by December.
The Ming Pao newspaper Wednesday said that the Film Censorship Authority has already adopted a more interventionist approach, reminiscent of mainland China regulators. The paper reported that recent short film “Far From Home” was told to cut 14 scenes and advised to change its title. The censor also wanted to add a warning that activities depicted in the film may be criminal.
Mingpao reported that the Film Censorship Authority asked the director of Far From Home to cut 14 parts of her film, change its name, and add a warning that says the activities depicted may constitute a crime. https://t.co/OkjwWzC5e6
— Rachel Cheung (@rachel_cheung1) August 25, 2021
Despite the tightening government grip over the creative sector, Tin maintains that the situation in Hong Kong “is not as extreme as that in mainland China, yet.” There’s still freedom in Hong Kong, he said. “We just hope that it won’t continue to deteriorate, and things can be relaxed one day.”
Rather than wait to be tripped up by the crackdown. some Hong Kong filmmakers have emigrated from the city, Tin confirmed. According to locally-published statistics, some 90,000 people have permanently left the city in the 12 months since the National Security Law was imposed. “This is a fact, and this is their choice,” said Tin.