Friday, November 25, 2016

Raise the Umbrellas is an Umbrella Movement documentary I hope many people will be able to see (film review)

Umbrella Man at Occupy Admiralty back in the fall of 2014 

Raise the Umbrellas (Hong Kong, 2016)
- Evans Chan, director and scriptwriter

After that... who knows?  But those looking for a comprehensive, considered cinematic coverage of the Hong Kong protest movement variously known as the Umbrella Movement, Umbrella Revolution, Occupy Central and Occupy Hong Kong should do what they can to view this documentary offering that captures a tremendous lot of what the likes of me saw, felt and experienced during the 79-day sit-in street protests that occured in the Big Lychee between September 26th and December 15th, 2014, and more besides.

Covering events leading up to the police letting off 87 rounds of tear gas at weapon-less protesters and consequently prompting still more people onto the streets in support of the pro-democracy activists up through to those taking place earlier this year (such as the election on September 4th of "Umbrella Soldiers" such as Nathan Law into the Legislative Council), Raising the Umbrellas also goes out of its way to include the views and voices of pro-Beijing representatives such Jasper Tsang and 689 himself along with long-term Pro-Democrats such as Emily Lau and Martin Lee, political activist "Long Hair" Leung Kwok Hung, Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai, and student activists Yvonne Leung and Joshua Wong.  

And unlike 75 Days: Life, Liberty and Happiness, another feature-length Umbrella Movement documentary which I viewed last month at the Hong Kong Independent Film Festival, Evans Chan's film doesn't fixate on the rare -- but cinematically more exciting -- violent clashes that took place over the course of the Umbrella Movement but, instead, takes time and effort to also cover such as the pro-environment and community-centered aspects of the street protests that I really appreciated, and also the artistic creations and communicative efforts that could be seen in the various protest areas.  

On a related note: it was great to see the contributions of the likes of entertainer-activists Denise Ho and Anthony Wong Yiu Min -- both of whom, probably not coincidentally, are the rare "out" homosexual personalities in the Canto-pop world -- being included in the picture, and their voices heard -- in song and interviews.  And on a personal note: I loved catching sight of the big Totoro cutout which had been placed near a bus stop at Admiralty -- complete with raised yellow umbrella -- in the film!

Evans Chan has talked about a shorter version of Raise the Umbrellas needing to be made for an international audience which, presumably, may feel too overwhelmed by a close to two hour documentary that's so full of details, including some that would require explanation or elaboration to be understood by those unfamiliar with the Hong Kong political scene.  I sincerely hope that this streamlined version will still manage to be multi-layered and contain those elements of the street protests that show how there really often was a spirit of "love and peace" around in Admiralty, Causeway Bay and even much maligned Mongkok.    

Among the stories told in this veritable labor of love which most resonated with me was one by a protester about how, after sleeping on the street one night, she woke up to find a blanket had been placed on her and food and drink next to her.  This is because I too have been offered food, drinks (bottled water, packets of tea, etc.) and goodwill in the Occupy areas -- and honestly feel that I often saw the very best of Hong Kongers and Hong Kong during the Umbrella Movement.  Indeed, it's the hope of being able to see more of that kind of care and spirit among Hong Kongers -- and when out and about in the Big Lychee in general -- that makes me feel that here is a society that's very much worth fighting for, and one in which I feel privileged as well as happy to be able to be a part.

My rating for this film: 9.0


sarah bailey knight said...

Hi ytsl,

I do hope that a shorter version of this film circulates, perhaps at film festivals, in the rest of the world. Enjoyed reading your article.

Tony said...

An international audience should not "feel too overwhelmed by a close to two hour documentary that's so full of details..." Unless this audience has been reared on a constant diet of superheroes and remakes, they should be able to understand and appreciate this important work.

Anonymous said...

I do believe that the Umbrella Movement had sufficient in-depth coverage that many viewers outside of Hong Kong could appreciate the long version of the film. In addition to Western media coverage, there was the famous Reddit site with live feeds from the protest sites, news conferences, comprehensive reposting of news articles, including translations of Chinese language articles and even explanations of the special role of Cantonese in the resistance movement. At the present time Jason Y. Ng's book, Umbrella's in Bloom, is selling well in the US.

YTSL said...

Hi sarah sbk --

I hope a feature length version of the film will get ample screening time, in Hong Kong along with the rest of the world. And I'll be interested in getting the reactions of viewers who weren't/aren't part of the Umbrella Movement along with those who were/are.

Hi Tony --

Unfortunately, a huge chunk of film audiences these days -- in Hong Kong as well as outside of it -- do seem to have been reared on a constant diet of superheroes and remakes, thanks in large part to Hollywood's domination of cinema screens in much of the world... :S

Hi Anonymous --

I do think that the Umbrella Movement received quite a bit of coverage in the international press. Sadly though, this doesn't mean that many people outside of Hong Kong opted to read about it, etc. A case in point: Over the course of the November 6th #Oathgate protest, I met a Frenchman who happened to be in Hong Kong that day who came up to my friend and me to ask what was going on. When we tried to provide some contextualiziation by referencing the Umbrella Movement, he indicated to us that he had no idea what we were talking about.

Re "Umbrellas in Bloom" selling well in the US: how many copies have been sold there thus far, do you know?