In Cannes, a powerful last-minute tribute to Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters

After ten days of blazing sun, rain fell on the Cannes Film Festival on Friday July 16. No doubt this was a tribute to the rebel protesters who turned an unlikely object into a global symbol of freedom: the umbrella.

An emblem of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong since 2014, the umbrella has served first as a means of expression and then as a shield against police cameras, pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets. But even the strongest umbrella can’t protect the characters in Kiwi Chow’s shock documentary ‘Revolution of Our Times’. The film chronicles the massive protests that crippled Hong Kong in 2019 and their brutal repression by the police.

The discreet last-minute addition of the Kiwi Chow film – announced as a ‘surprise documentary’ in an email to the press on Thursday – had sparked great curiosity as well as some speculation about a potential Cannes Film Festival affront to authorities Chinese, which hardly taste the critics. It turns out that the fear of an argument with Beijing is totally justified: ‘Revolution of our time’ is a powerful tribute to the courage and resilience of Hong Kong people fighting for their freedom, and an uncompromising critique of Chinese threats against the semi-autonomous status of the city.

‘Long Cannes tradition’

‘This surprise screening is not a game,’ festival director Thierry Frémaux told the audience before the film’s premiere, perhaps hoping to calm people down in the event of a diplomatic bickering. He explained that the documentary had reached the organizers at the last minute: ‘We saw it, we loved it and, as is the long tradition of Cannes to show films about what is happening in the world, we decided it was important to project it. ‘

The film chronicles the crisis that rocked the former British colony between June and November 2019, starting with the authorities ‘attempts to establish an extradition law to China that de facto erased the principle of’ one country, two systems. ‘on which London and Beijing had agreed. He then shows the protest movement shifting from civil disobedience to revolt, culminating in the bloody 12-day siege of the city’s Polytechnic University, which ended in defeat of the protesters.

Kiwi Chow has amassed a wealth of images – many are shocking – of protests and clashes between protesters and police. His documentary also gives voice to ordinary citizens within the movement, their voices altered and their faces masked or blurred during the editing. The film is said to be ‘made by Hong Kong people’ and indicates that most of the participants used pseudonyms. Several people filmed are now in exile or in prison, indicates a final note.

‘Over the past fifty years, Hong Kong people have fought for freedom and democracy but have not yet succeeded,’ read thesynopsis of the film published on the festival website. ‘In 2019, the extradition to China law opened Pandora’s box and made Hong Kong a battleground against Chinese authoritarianism.’

‘Fluid like water’

The fact that Hong Kong people are largely supporting the protesters seems to be obvious from the footage of a monster demonstration of two million people, nearly a third of the city’s population. But the film instead focuses on the ‘brave’, the protesters – mostly young – dressed in black who believe attacking is their best defense. Being ‘fluid like water’ is their mantra, constantly changing shape and rhythm. It is perhaps in the portrayal of these fluctuating tactics, some inspired by video games, that the documentary is most compelling.

A gutsy experience, ‘Révolution de notre temps’ looks at what makes a demonstration: the energy of revolutionary action, the bonds of camaraderie, the pain caused by pepper spray and rubber bullets, the torment of parents who cannot reach their children, and the anguish of young girls whose menstrual blood turns black due to the excessive inhalation of tear gas. The film also shows the amazement of Hong Kong people at the rapid escalation of violence in a city unaccustomed to this level of brutality. The public in France could argue that the police repression was, at least initially, less brutal than that which simultaneously targeted the yellow vests in France.

‘Do you realize that your law enforcement is out of control?’ A human rights activist asks officials who remain unmoved during a police briefing, as Chilling images of a policeman shooting point blank at the chest of an 18-year-old go around the world. If it is the young people who are leading these protests, the elders watch with dismay how the city-state they loved so much has been disfigured. ‘In a civilized place like this, how can the government be so barbaric?’ Asks a former activist disgusted by the increasing police violence.

Kiwi Chow makes little attempt to give the police version. His film leaves little doubt as to which side he invites to choose. It is both a tribute to the extraordinary courage and resilience of youth in the face of oppression and a cry for help. As one activist put it, ‘Hong Kong is the border between the free world and totalitarian systems’.

‘Hong Kong people stay strong!’

The director expressed his gratitude to the Cannes Film Festival for showing his documentary. ‘It is an honor that the world premiere of ‘Revolution of Our Time’, a film that documents the struggle of Hong Kong people, is taking place in Cannes and receiving great attention. Hong Kong has lost more than expected, and this good news will bring comfort to many Hong Kong people who live in fear. It also shows that those who fight for justice and freedom across the planet ARE with us! And the Hong Kong people remain strong! ‘

Kiwi Chow’s film is unlikely to be officially screened in Hong Kong. Under a controversial national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020, the director and his crew could be arrested.

As for the organizers of the Cannes Film Festival, they are now probably anxiously awaiting the reaction of the Chinese government, which has recently not hesitated to turn against those who openly support the pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong. Beijing’s decision earlier this year to censor the broadcast of the 2021 Oscars has been interpreted as punishment for the film’s ‘Do Not Split’ nomination, over the protests in Hong Kong, in the best short film category. documentary.