Festival screening of two films axed under HK censorship law

Taiwanese film, Islander — PHOTO FROM KFF.TW

HONG KONG — Two films have been dropped from an international film festival in Hong Kong (HK) after failing to get approval from authorities, in what one director said reflected increased censorship after a new censorship law came into effect last year.

The Fresh Wave International Short Film Festival said in a statement on Tuesday that a Taiwanese film, Islander, had failed to get an approval certificate from the city’s film censorship authority and it would not be screened.

The festival, which opened on June 17 and runs for a month, had earlier said a Hong Kong film would be dropped.

Hong Kong’s Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration said in an e-mail to Reuters that it “would not comment on the application or result of individual films.”

Hong Kong passed a censorship law last year to bar films that “endorse, support, glorify, encourage and incite activities that might endanger national security.”

The censorship law followed a national security law that Beijing imposed on the former British colony in 2020 that sets out punishment for anything deemed subversion, secession, colluding with foreign forces and terrorism, ending pro-democracy protests that rocked the city for months.

Islander tells the story of a man who goes to visit his only son, a detained political prisoner charged with secession and subversion during Taiwan’s authoritarian era before it became a fully-fledged democracy.

The film’s Taiwanese director, Wu Zi-en, criticized the decision not to allow its screening.

“I think, no matter how the film censorship authority responds afterward, it is just a lie if they said it’s not related to the content,” Mr. Wu said.

A Hong Kong film, Time, and Time Again, about a detective haunted by a case of a missing girl, had also failed to get a green light from film censors, the film’s director said.

The name of the missing girl in the film, Christy, is the same as that of a girl who went missing during pro-democracy protests in 2019 and was later found dead in the sea. The names are slightly different in Chinese.

“No one knows whether it’s related to the name Christy,” director Asgard Wong told Reuters by telephone from Germany, referring to the failure to get approval.

“It’s just everyone’s guess.”

Wong and other film-makers were wary about prospects for cinema in a city that has for decades been one of Asia’s movie-making hubs.

“There will be more censorship in terms of production … Apart from the film censorship authority, we also need to second guess how others, including the agencies, venues, and funding sources think,” Wong said.

Several other directors read out the script of Time, and Time Again at the festival, saying they wanted to find a way to present it to audiences.

“The vague approval conditions limit the imagination and development of future local movie productions,” a group of 11 directors said in a statement. — Reuters