A Hong Kong cinema has cancelled a private screening of a documentary scheduled for Sunday after being reminded by an industry representative that the date – the anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown – was “sensitive,” according to the organiser of the screening.

AsOne, an online shopping platform and store founded by former pro-democracy district councillor Derek Chu, tried to organise the screening for around 70 people at the Golden Scene Cinema, to be followed by conversations with the two directors.

Chu said he had been questioned by police about his plans for Sunday, but the documentary had nothing to do with the Tiananmen anniversary.

Golden Scene Cinema
Golden Scene Cinema. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

“The film is nothing to do with the June 4 mourning. It was scheduled on Sunday simply because the directors are not available on weekdays. But I think it’s the date that was targeted, not the movie,” Chu told HKFP.

The documentary, To Be Continued, traces the history and culture of the State Theatre building in North Point, and its founder and impresario Harry Odell.

It was granted a certificate of approval by the government’s film censor before it was first shown at the Hong Kong International Film Festival in April 2023, followed by special and private screenings in Hong Kong over the past two months.

Documentary To Be Continued.
The documentary To Be Continued traced down the history and culture of the historical building State Theatre, and its founder Harry Odell. Photo: To Be Continued, via Facebook.

The Tiananmen crackdown occurred on June 4, 1989 ending months of student-led demonstrations in China. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, died when the People’s Liberation Army cracked down on protesters in Beijing.

Hong Kong for 30 years staged a mass candlelit commemoration in Victoria Park, one of the very few places on Chinese soil to do so. But starting in 2020 authorities banned the event, citing Covid-19 restrictions.

Covid restrictions have been lifted this year but officials refuse to say whether public commemoration of the occasion is legal.

As the anniversary looms, the red lines on mourning events remain unclear.

Hong Kong leader John Lee failed on Tuesday to give a yes-no answer over the legality of mourning the victims of the Tiananmen crackdown. Residents must obey the law and consider the consequences of their actions, he said.

Chu said he had confirmed booking and payment with the Golden Scene Cinema in Kennedy Town on Monday, but its staff called him at around 2pm Wednesday, informing him of the decision to call off the screening.

“The staff said the screening had to be cancelled because a ‘representative of the industry’ persuaded them to be careful as the day was ‘sensitive’,” Chu said, quoting staff as saying that all three private screenings for the film scheduled for June 4 — organised by different people — had been cancelled. The organiser posted news of the cancellation on Facebook on Wednesday.

Hong Kong Free Press has reached out to Golden Scene Cinema for comment.

In March 2021, the cinema cancelled a screening of Inside the Red Brick Wall, a documentary about a violent campus clash between student protesters and police in 2019. The cancellation came days after a pro-Beijing newspaper claimed the film may violate the national security law.

‘Who is representative of the industry?’

Dora Choi, a co-director of To Be Continued, confirmed with HKFP that all three private screenings scheduled for June 4 had been cancelled by the cinema.

“It’s a great pity that To Be Continued cannot be screened on June 4 (Sunday). Since the film was screened in April, weekends have always been a peak time for audiences. Also, the two directors are only available to meet the audience on weekends. Hope we could meet again in the coming days, ” Choi said in in a statement.

Tenky Tin, a spokesperson of the Federation of Hong Kong Filmmakers, told HKFP he had been trying to figure out what was going on and who the “representative” of the industry was, if they even existed.

“Given that the film had obtained a certificate of approval, how come it was not allowed to be screened on specific days? That was absolutely ridiculous,” Tin said. “As representatives of industry, we cannot be unclear and ambiguous.”

Police ‘enquiries’ about ‘June 4 activities’

Chu said that one day before the movie cancellation, he met Hong Kong police, who made “enquiries about what kind of June 4 activities I will be involved in on Sunday.”

Chu Kong-wai june 4 2022 goddess of democracy
Former Yau Tsim Mong district councillor Chu Kong-wai distributed electronic candles on June 4, which marked the 33rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. Photo: HKFP.

” I replied that I will place candles in AsOne store, people can take them away if they like, and nothing more, ” Chu said. He did did not mention the private screening of To Be Continued to police as “the screening has nothing to do with mourning.”

Chu said he was trying to reschedule the screening.

Former district councillor Debby Chan also said on her Facebook page that she received a phone call from police asking whether she would hold any memorial activities on Sunday. Another former district councillor received phone calls from national security officials asking similar questions in April, Photon Media reported.

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Hong Kong Free Press is a new, non-profit, English-language news source seeking to unite critical voices on local and national affairs. Free of charge and completely independent, HKFP arrives amid rising concerns over declining press freedom in Hong Kong and during an important time in the city’s constitutional development.