Retirees turn to videography to ‘build a bridge’ between the elderly and their families

Ng Kwok-hung (in blue) instructs his team on video editing software. Picture: Vicky Wong

Wanted: Aspiring videographers, no experience necessary, preferably retired.

Ng Kwok-hung is recruiting.

The 78 year old leads a team of over-60 year olds for Caritas, an aged services provider that helps the elderly express their thoughts and final wishes to their families on film, a service that’s proved so popular it’s being expanded.

It started a few years ago and found a niche, allowing subjects to broach topics with their families via video that remain taboo or difficult to discuss for many in Hong Kong.

“Usually, the elderly have a lot of things they would like to share with their family members, but they are not ready to,” Ng said.

“Using the video makes them more comfortable to speak about their needs. It serves as a bridge between them and their family.”

The program also has another purpose, says Ng, a chatty former cab driver who first dabbled in videography a decade ago to film his vacations.

“We hope that by having a program like this, we can prove that Hong Kong’s elders can still do things, and can still work with equipment like cameras,” he said.

“We also hope… this will change older people’s mindset, [some may] they think [that] because they’re old, they’re useless. They shouldn’t think that.”

To accommodate his team, Ng said he had to make a few customizations to the gear.

The 3-inch screen on the high-end camera, for one, was too small, so a bigger 7-inch monitor was added on top.

“There are people who see us working and ask ‘why do you need such a big screen?’ It’s because without it, we won’t be able to see what we’re doing,” he said, adding that quality earphones were also a must for those hard of hearing.

Some of the gear used by the team
Some of the gear used by the team. Picture: Vicky Wong.

The team — currently numbering 10 — gather once a week to practice with the camera and learn how to edit.

On a recent Tuesday, several members met at the Caritas Social Centre for the Elderly in Sha Tin, where Ng walked them through video-editing software Adobe Premiere.

The computer, said Ng, had also been somewhat adapted to the group’s needs — with a microphone added so those who can’t read the English-formatted software can relay instructions in Cantonese.

“The most important thing is that they need to be interested in learning; if they are interested, then it’s not difficult to learn,” Ng said.

The competencies of the group is mixed. Some, like retired wedding photographer Sam Au Young, 64, have a background in the craft. But even with his experience, getting up to speed with the digital gear took some work, Au said.

“Now we’re a lot older, a lot of the technology has changed, so we take a lot longer to learn new things and the skills we learned before aren’t enough for today. That said, I’m OK with the equipment,” he said.

For members like Ken Chu, 64, who had little experience with a camera before joining, the program was a way to learn and keep busy.

“I retired a few years ago, and my job used to be really busy and stressful,” he said.

“So when I retired, I knew I didn’t want to do anything too stressful, so I started doing Tai Chi, but that didn’t do anything for me.”

Ken Chu practicing his video editing skills watched on by other members of the team. Picture: Vicky Wong

Simon Fung, who started just a month ago, came to the team with some experience in the field, having worked as an editor at Asia Television (ATV).

He also has intimate knowledge of something else central to the team’s mission.

In many of the messages the team records, subjects reflect on death, a subject often avoided within Chinese culture.

Fung knows personally what it’s like to confront mortality.

“I started thinking about life and death when I was diagnosed with liver cancer,” says the 64-year-old, who recovered after receiving a liver transplant two and a half years ago.

“Liver cancer is one of those diseases where you can die pretty quickly… you start thinking about things differently, about being more open.”

Ng and his team have now filmed over 50 subjects. Among regular themes, he said, was the desire to see their loved ones more and share their thoughts on how to take care of grandchildren.

Some became emotional, he said, recalling one particularly poignant case of a man whose family and friends had stopped visiting. 

“One of the main focuses is to solve problems or arguments from the past before they die. To have family harmony,” said Ng.

“Children regret not being able to return parents’ love before they pass away.”

In another case, he recalled, a father who had been tough on his children apologized for often being angry.

“In the video he said sorry. He said he just wanted the children to be good,” he said.

Ng said he was hoping to find several new members and get everyone’s skill level to the point they can operate solo.

“Our hope, in the future, is that each person can go out and do everything on their own – set up the equipment, record the message and so on.

“If you retire and just stay at home all day and don’t see people, then you lose a bit of your spirit and energy. If we encouraged all old people to go out, interact with other people, then everyone would be a lot happier.”

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