Hong Kong protest documentary set to be released online worldwide, but many in the city are wary of watching it

Screengrab of the trailer for “Revolution of Our Times”.
Screengrab of the trailer for “Revolution of Our Times”.

It’s a documentary shot in Hong Kong, made by Hongkongers that tells their stories.

But in the months since Revolution of Our Times premiered, the city has increasingly seemed like the last place one would be able to actually watch the film.

That, however, could soon change. The team behind the film – which documents the 2019 and 2020 protests in Hong Kong – announced last Friday that it would be making its worldwide release online in June.

“The team has been receiving numerous enquiries from audiences around the world who still have not seen the film, the team therefore decided to release ‘Revolution of Our Times’ on Vimeo, the online streaming platform, on the 1st June, 2022, so the world can finally have the chance to see it,” the team wrote in their announcement, which was met with much fanfare on various social media platforms.

While Vimeo is blocked in China, it is accessible in Hong Kong, so for many Hongkongers in the city, word of its online release is long-awaited good news.

“I’m based in Hong Kong and I finally have the chance to watch it,”  one netizen commented on the team’s Facebook announcement post. 

“Hongkongers around the world can meet up to watch together,” said another.

Surprise decision

The documentary, which is directed by Kiwi Chow, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and has been distributed to cinemas overseas including those in the UK, US, Canada and Taiwan. 

This film also won the Golden Horse Award for Best Documentary in 2021.

But Friday’s announcement came as a surprise to many. 

After Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong in 2020, which critics say curtails freedom of speech, and the city’s lawmakers passed amendments to the Film Censorship Ordinance in 2021, which allow authorities to ban productions that are considered a risk to national security, many believed they would never have a chance to watch Revolution of Our Times in Hong Kong. 

Moreover, the film takes its name from “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” – a political slogan that the High Court ruled in 2021 was a danger to national security. The slogan was commonly used during the 2019 and 2020 mass demonstrations, which were against a controversial extradition bill. 

Protesters could be heard shouting for gloves, goggles, and zip ties — used to create makeshift ramparts by tying together police barricades. Cheers were let out as supplies passed through the crowd. Photo: Coconuts Hong Kong

Mixed feelings

While many in Hong Kong said they are looking forward to the release of Revolution of Our Times on Vimeo, some have expressed concerns and doubts about watching the movie. 

“They said it would be released worldwide, but I think it will somehow be blocked in Hong Kong,” said one Hongkonger, who preferred to be identified only by her initial C. 

“I am also worried about breaching the national security law.” 

The film will be available on Vimeo from 12am Hong Kong time on June 1. Those who want to watch the film on the streaming platform can either rent it or buy it. 

C said she was concerned that she could be tracked down based on her credit card details, which she would need to use to pay for the movie. 

“But if the situation permits, I would like to watch the film,” she said, adding she would study if it was better to use a VPN.

Coconuts has reached out to Vimeo to ask about whether there will be geographic restrictions on the film and safeguards regarding users’ personal data but has not received a response at the time of writing.

Others, however, said they were not worried. A group of mainland China and international students studying at a university in Hong Kong told us that they were looking forward to the release and were planning to have a small gathering to watch it together.

For some, it is not the fear of breaking the law but rather the fear of having to relive the unrest that is holding them back. 

“I don’t plan to watch it as it is too much to take. It is too painful to experience it all over again,” said one Hongkonger living in the city. 

But she said she might still purchase the movie. 

“Maybe one day when I think I can take it, I will watch the film,” she added. 

Legal implications

Coconuts asked the Hong Kong Police if it is illegal to watch, download or share the movie and whether they would be taking action to block the site or the film specifically in Hong Kong. 

A police representative said they would not comment on individual cases.

“Whether an individual activity will violate [the national security law] depends on its relevant circumstances, including facts, relevant acts, intent and evidence obtained,” he said, adding that it will be dealt with in accordance with relevant laws. 

Barrister Ronny Tong earlier told Ming Pao that there should not be issues if a person is just purchasing and downloading the film for personal viewing. 

But if the person is found to be distributing the film to others indiscriminately, the act might involve the intent of secession, he added. 

Tong, who is also a member of the Executive Council, stressed that even if the film is listed by a foreign publisher, it is difficult to avoid relevant criminal responsibilities as the national security law is applicable to the whole world.

Chow, the film’s director, told the Chinese-language daily that he had sold the copyright and all materials related to the film to a foreign friend. This means the copyright to the documentary no longer belongs to him. 

But Chow – who lives in Hong Kong and is the only individual involved in the production who has revealed their identity – said he is mentally prepared to be arrested.

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