Film on failed detention attempt gains Oscar buzz

More than 3,000 people gathered at Hong Kong’s Central Business District (CBD) on Saturday to watch a demonstration film about three young men who broke into an office and posed as journalists to interview the police commissioner during the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests. The crowd cheered the release of the film Late At Night, as well as its director, Jessica Cheng, who was then announced winner of best documentary at the China Academy of Cinema Arts-sponsored “Cinema Sansui Cinema” awards.

Praised by the festival’s chairwoman Xu Zhiwen, as well as Hong Kong’s top newspaper, Ming Pao, the documentary was one of 25 films competing for “Best Future Documentary,” which would have given it entry into Hong Kong’s other upcoming cinemas and a chance to win a gold medal for best documentary. “It is from the heart,” Cheng said of her film. “It came from feeling humiliated, the sense of disappointment over how our democracy movements were being forgotten and silenced.”

Late At Night, a 42-minute portrait of three young men who decided to “act against the police state to shed light on their problem,” has been generating a lot of buzz around Hong Kong since its world premiere last week, with overseas publications remarking on its “historic significance” and “journalistic integrity” and the online trade publication Variety hailing its “pivotal role in highlighting Hong Kong’s vanguard” and “rapid democratization.” While Cheng has been facing backlash for her political views and beliefs, the film has garnered more than 400 reviews on the festival’s website as of Friday, with several praising its “brilliant narrative writing.” “The film has too many triumphs for it to be knocked down,” one user wrote on the website.

The U.S.-born curator said she initially wanted to make a film about John and Jay, “two ordinary people with a powerful idea” who believed that “the ordinary peoples power of the Hong Kong people might challenge the universal democracy.” After learning about the police station raid on Apple Daily reporter Lam Wing-kee, she and her husband decided to cover it and watch how the incident unfolded in real time. Cheng’s husband, Matthew Cheung, who makes documentaries on Buddhist monks, said that despite the third man being one of the “scumbags” identified as the intruders, he wanted to use the whole situation to discuss “how easily people can slip into criminals” and how mainland China’s “power system” could compromise democracy. “I think the title I picked is a good way to describe it: a ‘con artist,’” he said.

A lot of people had warned the couple not to continue with the project, especially after Lam was jailed for four years. The film earned harsh criticism from Hong Kong pro-democracy activists and legislators, who are critical of the government’s decision to hand over power to Beijing in 2017, but it was a dream of Cheng’s to get everyone to watch it. Some participants in the Occupy protests refused to watch the film because they felt it would “intimidate” them, with some saying that it compared them unfavorably to the thieves of the 1930s. Nevertheless, Cheng has been delighted that the film has won over 25,000 viewers. “This shows that Hong Kong is willing to see things differently,” she said.

Read the full story at The Guardian.


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