28 January 2020
British filmmaker Matthew Torne (inset) hopes at least 100,000 people will join the Occupy Central civil disobedience campaign. Photos: Apple Daily, IMDb
British filmmaker Matthew Torne (inset) hopes at least 100,000 people will join the Occupy Central civil disobedience campaign. Photos: Apple Daily, IMDb

Occupy Central key to HK democratic reform, filmmaker says

British filmmaker Matthew Torne, who is making another documentary about Hong Kong, said massive turnouts for the Occupy Central civil disobedience campaign is the only way to force Beijing to negotiate with the Hong Kong people on political reform.

For his latest project, which is about social and political movements in Hong Kong, Torne covered the July 1 pro-democracy march and will also film the Occupy Central protests set to take place in August.

It is the filmmaker’s second fly-on-the-wall production, after his movie Lessons in Dissent depicting the year-long campaign against the government’s national education proposal in 2012.

“We are seeing unprecedented changes in Hong Kong… Things changed in the past six years, especially in the last two years under CY Leung’s administration. I think Hong Kong people are really starting to see things will get worse if they don’t come out and protest,” Torne told the EJ Insight.

“Beijing is looking for a way to find a chief executive who can govern Hong Kong, do the things that Beijing wants done and at the same time is accepted by Hong Kong people, but I personally think that it is impossible.”

What Beijing wants and what the majority of the Hong Kong people desire are too far apart, he said. And worse still, Beijing doesn’t listen to legal or moral arguments; they just make the rules.

The film director also said that two years into his “reign”, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is showing his colors with his authoritarian style and the larger society is now becoming aware of it.

This is reflected in the arrest of demonstrators opposing his administration’s plan to develop the northeastern New Territories, and the arrest of the July 1 protest organizers on the tiniest of misdemeanors such as car engine idling.

“I think that’s a wake-up call for a lot of people. A lot of them were surprised that the government goes that far,” he said.

Occupy Central

Torne said the only way for things to change is for lots and lots of people to come out for Occupy Central. The protest aims to draw at least 10,000 people to block the Central business district to demand an election system that is in line with international democratic standards.

“Hong Kong is a unique place. There are elections. But you can’t elect the government, so you can’t change the government through elections. What else can you do besides going on protests?” he said.

“Occupy Central should be seen as a way to apply pressure at the negotiation table. I don’t think Beijing is going to unlock the door to allow everything that Hong Kong people wish for in terms of democracy. They will only do so if pressure is applied.”

However, the filmmaker thought that 10,000 people would not be enough to pressure the government into making substantial changes; organizers should aim for a turnout of 100,000.

“The greater the number, the greater the pressure, the more chance Hong Kong has of achieving a greater degree of democracy,” he said.

And Torne is optimistic about large turnouts at Occupy Central, as he thinks Beijing’s white paper on the “one country, two systems” policy had touched the nerves of many in the city.

“Beijing’s white paper is foolishness… It shows Beijing doesn’t really understand how Hong Kong public opinion operates. Hong Kong’s public opinion operates like in Western countries,” he said.

“Beijing chose to release the white paper, which said things like judges have to be patriotic, just days before the opinion poll on Occupy Central. How could they not realize that there will be massive backlash to that?”

‘Lessons in Dissent’

Torne’s film Lessons in Dissent charts the key demonstrations and events leading to the anti-national education protests. The two protagonists are student activists Joshua Wong, leader of a student group Scholarism, and Ma Wan-kei, a member of the League of Social Democrats.

The student-led protest has drawn the support from almost all levels in the society and subsequently forced the government to put aside the curriculum that they said aimed at brainwashing the young generation by teaching them to be loyal to the Communist Party.

And although Torne said that he and his local production team had not decided on the theme or characters yet, the new documentary will be more reflective and probably center on young people as they are full of energy and new ideas.

It will have something “wider, bigger, more extensive with more story lines”, he said.

Lessons in Dissent is being shown at the Hong Kong Arts Centre in Wan Chai until the end of this month. Tickets are available through Urbtix.

– Contact the writer at [email protected]


EJ Insight reporter