The organisers of a film festival have cancelled the upcoming screening of an award-winning short movie after censors demanded the removal of a scene depicting a protest site during the 2014 Umbrella Movement.

The Ground Up Film Society told HKFP on Thursday that it sent Losing Side of a Longed Place, meant to be screened at a two-day festival this weekend, to the Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration (OFNAA) for evaluation last month.

Authorities flagged the “Losing Side of a Longed Place” scene and said it was a reconstruction of an “illegal occupation movement. Photo: Losing Side of a Longed Place.

In an emailed reply sent on Monday, OFNAA ordered the film producers to delete a scene that it said had “reconstructed the illegal occupation movement.” If they did not comply, the film would not be allowed for public screening.

The shot in question – lasting less than a second – showed canopies and placards reading “Don’t forget the original intention.” The scene also had a scroll partially flipped up by the wind with a yellow umbrella and the characters “I want,” an apparent allusion to banners hung around protest camps during the 2014 movement that read “I want universal suffrage.”

The pro-democracy campaign, lasting 79 days, saw thousands of protesters occupying roads in key districts to demand voting rights in the city’s chief executive election. Leading figures of the largely peaceful movement were jailed in the years following the police clearance.

Protesters occupying a road in Admiralty during the 2014 Umbrella Movement. Photo: Wpcpey, via Wikicommons.

OFNAA also cited a clause in the Film Censorship Ordinance stating that authorities would consider whether a film’s exhibition would be “contrary to the interests of national security” in deciding whether to approve it for screening.

The Ground Up Film Society said it would remove the film from the upcoming screening as the producers had decided to refuse OFNAA’s order to delete the scene.

In a response to HKFP, OFNAA said it would not comment on the evaluation results of specific films.

‘Video unavailable’

Losing Side of a Longed Place won the Best Animated Short Film prize at Taiwan’s prestigious Golden Horse Awards in 2017. It also received the gold recognition at the Hong Kong Arts Centre’s ifva Awards’ animation category that same year, when it was described by one judge as “beautifully drawn and painted.”

The film features a homosexual man who fights for the rights of the LGBT community while feeling frustrated with his surroundings and “thinking about how everything ended up in [the] current societal situation,” according to a description of the short.

The seven-minute work was produced by a team of three animation students at Open University of Hong Kong (OUHK), now known as Hong Kong Metropolitan University.

According to the Ground Up Film Society, the OUHK uploaded the short onto its YouTube channel three years ago.

The film, on the Open University of Hong Kong’s YouTube channel, was set to private on Thursday. Photo: YouTube.

But a day after the group announced it would withdraw the film from the festival, the video had been set to private with an error message reading “video unavailable.”

In response to HKFP, HKMU said: “After learning that the full version of the animation created by HKMU alumni, Losing Sight of a Longed Place, was not allowed for public screening by the Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration, HKMU School of Arts and Social Sciences has temporarily changed the video to private viewing for reviewing the subject further.”

Censorship ordinance

An amendment to the Film Censorship Ordinance passed last year requires authorities to consider whether the exhibition of a film would be “contrary to the interests of national security” before allowing it to be screened locally.

In June, a director withdrew her film from a festival after OFNAA said certain lines in the 21-minute work contained “ungrounded statements” that could mislead viewers into thinking the government “abuses its powers to curb the protests.” It added that the statements could incite hatred against the government and may be “seditious in nature.”

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

OFNAA had flagged two sets of subtitles, one in which an interviewee said the government used pandemic restrictions to “clamp down on protesters,” as well as a subtitle reading “We covered all over with cuts and bruises, but we can only keep holding on, strain every nerve to resist unjust rules.”

Erica Kwok, director of The Dancing Voice of Youth, told HKFP she was disappointed that the film would not be shown in Hong Kong. She said she did not make the changes ordered by OFNAA as doing so “would mean agreeing with their assertions.”

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.”

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Hillary Leung

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.