A Hong Kong director has pulled her work from a film showcase after authorities said it contained “ungrounded statements” that had the potential to incite hatred against the government, and could not be screened unless changes were made.

The Dancing Voice of Youth
“The Dancing Voice of Youth” won a “special mention” at the 27th ifva Awards. Photo: Ifva Awards.

“The Dancing Voice of Youth,” which was chosen as a finalist in the Hong Kong Arts Centre’s ifva Awards, will not be shown at the two-day event on July 2 and 3.

Director Erica Kwok told HKFP that the ifva Awards submitted her 21-minute film to the Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration (OFNAA) for evaluation in December.

In May, she was informed that the film had not passed the evaluation. Authorities highlighted two statements; the first was a quote from an interviewee, “After experiencing the pandemic blues, as I know, the social movement is a trigger event… The government uses restrictions to clamp down on protestors,” while the second was a subtitle towards the end of the film, “We covered all over with cuts and bruises, but we can only keep holding on, strain every nerve to resist unjust rules.”

According to OFNAA, these lines contained “ungrounded statements” that could mislead viewers into thinking the government “abuses its powers to curb the protests.” OFNAA added that the statements could incite hatred against the government, and may be “seditious in nature.”

The Dancing Voice of Youth
A subtitle in “The Dancing Voice of Youth” deemed by authorities as capable of inciting hatred against the government. Photo: Supplied.

Kwok was given the option of amending her work to align with OFNAA’s comments, but chose not to do so.

The evaluation was part of new rules introduced last October under the Film Censorship Ordinance.

The law requires authorities to evaluate whether the exhibition of a film would be “contrary to the interests of national security” before allowing it to be screened locally.

In a response to HKFP, OFNAA said it “would not comment on the application or result of individual films.”

ifva awards

Kwok told HKFP she was disappointed that her film would not be allowed to be shown in Hong Kong.

“When I got the reply [from OFNAA], my feelings were complex. I did think about whether I should make those changes,” the 27-year-old director said.

“But to an extent, making the changes would mean agreeing with their assertions that the film is misleading, that the statements are ungrounded,” she added.

Set in Hong Kong, “The Dancing Voice of Youth” is an experimental film featuring metaphors about “the social unrest and what happened in the city” in recent years, Kwok said. The film’s synopsis describes “a girl with a mysterious background” living in the “dark night of a chaotic age.”

It received a “special mention” in the ifva Awards. In a deliberation meeting, judges commended the film for its powerful imagery and room for interpretation.

Hong Kong Arts Centre
Hong Kong Arts Centre. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

“It places unreal elements within the real city and fits in well with the mood of the current chaotic era,” Eric Poon, one of the judges and an associate journalism professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said.

Organised by the Hong Kong Arts Centre, the ifva Awards recognises short films and animations from Hong Kong and parts of Asia. This is the 27th year that the awards are being held.

Ifva said it received 165 short films in the award’s Open Category.

Fresh Wave International Short Film Festival

The government said last year that the updated Film Censorship Ordinance “aims to ensure more effective fulfilment of the duty to safeguard national security as required by the National Security Law.”

Separately, screenings of two short films slated to be showcased at Fresh Wave International Short Film Festival, were cancelled after OFNAA did not respond following their submission for reviews.

The festival announced last Friday morning that two films, “Anatomy of Rats” and “Time, and Time Again” would not be screened after not hearing from OFNAA.

That night, the festival said OFNAA had “finally issued” an approval for “Anatomy of Rats,” a film about corrupt school prefects, meaning the screenings could go on. There were no further updates for “Time, and Time Again,” a short based on the mysterious death of a protester during the 2019 anti-extradition unrest.

On Tuesday, the festival announced that “Islander,” a film about a Taiwanese political prisoner, would also not be screened as scheduled as OFNAA had not responded.

According to the Film Censorship Ordinance, OFNAA must revert with a decision in 28 days. However, if the exhibition of the film “might be contrary” to national security interests, the decision period can be extended.

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.