The Hong Kong government has reportedly told an independent film distributor that two new documentaries about last year’s pro-democracy protests must include an official warning about their content.

protest film ofnaa ying e chi notice
Photo: Ying E Chi, via Facebook.

The Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration (OFNAA) said the documentaries must carry warnings that some scenes may depict criminal offences and that some of the commentary may be misleading.

In addition, according to the distributor, the office announced the film’s adults-only classification just two hours before screening, excluding viewers aged under 18.

An NGO called Ying E Chi distributed the two films this month and organised screenings. It revealed on Monday that OFNAA had told it to insert the statements, against the wishes of the movie directors. Ying E Chi said the office had warned that it may ban the screening of the documentaries unless its wishes were complied with. OFNAA also reportedly said it did not wish to be identified as the entity which had demanded the statements.

For Inside the Red Brick Wall which covered the police siege of the Polytechnic University of Hong Kong last November, OFNAA prescribed the following statement: “This film records the serious incidents at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and nearby areas in November 2019. Some of those depictions or acts may constitute criminal offences under prevailing laws. Some of the contents of or commentaries in the film may be unverified or misleading.”

protest film ofnaa ying e chi notice
Photo: Ying E Chi, via Facebook.

In Taking back the Legislature which documented the storming of the legislative council chamber on July 1 last year, OFNAA ordered the following statement: “This film records the serious incident of the storming of the Legislative Council Complex on 1 July 2019. Some of those depictions or acts may constitute criminal offences under prevailing laws.”

Ying E Chi, in a Facebook posting on Monday, said the notices prescribed by OFNAA did not reflect the views of the director of the production team.

On Monday, when the first screening of Inside the Red Brick Wall was scheduled, the distributor was notified just hours beforehand that the film had been classified as Category III, prompting refunds to potential underage viewers.

No one aged under 18 is allowed to rent, buy or watch Category III films in the cinema.

“Ying E Chi hereby express our strong discontent at the following actions of the OFNAA,” the NGO said in its statement.

“It is not the wish of Ying E Chi and Hong Kong Documentary Filmmakers to set the wrong example for the industry, yet we would hate to have the truth to be buried by the Hong Kong Government or to let those in power rewrite history.”

“Ying E Chi have compromised in this instance in order to facilitate this screening, we, nevertheless, will keep on protesting, so please spread the word and make our story known,” the statement said.

Defiance and voices protest may james
Photo: May James.

In an email reply to HKFP, the Film Division of OFNAA wrote that according to the Film Censorship Ordinance, a censor can request applicants to make edits.

“Some of the description and behaviour captured in the two films may be in violation of existing laws. Apart from foul language, which appeared frequently, they also feature lengthy, detailed documentation of serious criminal acts and juveniles using offensive weapons,” the email read.

“After checking the films, the regulator thinks the applicant should issue notices to avoid imitation of the behaviours or misleading viewers, before Taking back the Legislature and Inside the Red Brick Wall can be rated as Category IIB and III respectively.”

OFNAA added they usually do not approve of being identified in the films as the regulator but applicants may make the edit requests public.

Regarding Ying E Chi’s claim that the distributor only received the Category III classification hours before their screening on Monday, the authority said it had repeatedly received incorrect versions of the films in the morning: “It was only in the afternoon that OFNAA received the correct versions of the two films, with notices inserted, hence we issued a certificate of approval on the same day.”

A draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing on June 30 has raised fears of an increase in censorship and self-censorship. The city’s government says freedom of speech will not be impacted.

Update 23.9.20: this article was updated to include a response from OFNAA.

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Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.