Revolution of Our Times: Powerful Chronicle of Police Brutality during Hong Kong’s 2019 Pro-Democracy Protests (Secret Screening at Cannes Film Fest 2021)

Cannes Screens Hong Kong Protest Documentary as Late Addition to Official Program

Revolution of Our Times is a hard-hitting chronicle of police brutality during Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests in 2019.

The Cannes Festival made a last-minute addition to its lineup, inviting select members of the press to attend screening of Revolution of Our Times, a politically powerful documentary initially described as being “about the protests in Hong Kong.”

Revolution of Our Times was scheduled for just one official special screening in Cannes, today, Friday, July 16.  The secretive manner in which the film’s inclusion was announced aroused curiosity about its origins and theme.

The festival then contacted the international press stating that a “surprise documentary” had been added to the program.  A small number of reporters were invited to attend a “confidential” screening.

The festival requested at the time that no news about the film be released until Thursday afternoon, Cannes time.

Revolution of Our Times is a hard-hitting chronicle of the mass street protests that erupted in Hong Kong in 2019 — protests that were met with a brutal police crackdown, hundreds of arrests of activists and democracy advocates, and the eventual imposition of Chinese Communist Party control over the former colony. Those involved in the new documentary could be subject to arrest and charges of subversion.

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Protestors, wearing raincoats against tear gas, march in Hong Kong’s main thoroughfares during the 2019 demonstrations. DEAR BROS

Revolution of Our Times is directed by Hong Kong filmmaker Kiwi Chow, 42, best known as one of the directors who contributed to Hong Kong’s 2015 indie hit Ten Years, a sci-fi dystopian anthology of five shorts exploring different ways that Hong Kong might change under Communist Party rule by the year 2025.

Chow’s segment, Self-Immolator, was among the politically starkest, telling the story of an elderly Hong Kong woman who sets herself on fire in protest after witnessing Hong Kong pro-independence protestor brutally beaten by police. The segment was considered extreme, but reality in Hong Kong quickly caught up with Chow’s vision.

Revolution of Our Times uses extensive footage taken from the tumultuous events in Hong Kong in 2019, as well as interviews with activists (done anonymously, with their faces disguised), to chart the pro-democracy movement.

It documents the increase in police brutality as Hong Kong became engulfed in deadly street battles, including 12-day siege of the Polytechnic University in November 2019.

In one of the film’s most shocking moments, a body is seen being pushed out of a high-rise window, with Hong Kong authorities accused of kidnapping and murdering several of the movement’s central figures. The film is said to have been put together entirely in secret.

“Over the past fifty years, Hongkongers have fought for freedom and democracy but have yet to succeed,” reads the synopsis. “In 2019, the Extradition Bill to China opened Pandora’s box, turning Hong Kong into a battlefield against the Chinese authoritarian rule.”

Chow made this documentary to tell the story of the movement, with a macro view of its historical context and up close and personal on the front lines.

The film states that the majority involved in its making use pseudonyms in the credits–the producer goes by “Dear Bros” and participants go by “Hongkongers.”

The screening of the film is certain to upset China’s ruling Communist Party, and could risk the attendance of Chinese filmmakers at future editions of the festival.

Chow offered his appreciation: “I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to Cannes. It is our honor to have the World Premiere of “Revolution of Our Times,” a film documenting the struggle of Hongkongers in Cannes. Hong Kong has been losing far more than anyone has expected, this good news will be comfort to many Hongkongers who live in fear. It also shows that whoever fights for justice and freedom around the world, ARE with us! Hongkongers are staying strong!”

Cannes has stood before with filmmakers facing political persecution in their countries, such as Iranian director Jafar Panahi (This Is Not a Film) and Russian filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov (Petrov’s Flu). Both were under house arrest and unable to attend the festival when their films screened.

But Hong Kong’s protest movement has found few allies over the past two years, as Beijing has leveraged China’s outsize economic clout to punish any companies that dare throw their support behind democracy in Hong Kong.

In October 2019, the NBA, the most popular and profitable U.S. sporting league in China, was banned from broadcast in the country for a year after the Houston Rockets general manager, Daryl Morey, put out seven-word tweet voicing support for Hong Kong’s movement. (“Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”)

In August, Chinese actress Crystal Liu, star of Disney’s China-set action tentpole Mulan, created backlash when she voiced her support for the Hong Kong police force’s crackdown on protestors.

The activist movement called for boycott of Muan, but Disney, a supporter of social movements in the U.S., such as Black Lives Matter, remained mum on the topic of democracy. The entertainment conglomerate feared that its Shanghai Disneyland theme park would be shuttered by Beijing if it were to speak out.

Hong Kong politics also have resulted in the 2021 Oscars ceremony being totally blocked from broadcast in mainland China and Hong Kong. Many believed it was a retribution for the Academy’s nomination of the Hong Kong protest film Do Not Split in the best short documentary. Critical comments by best director winner Chloe Zhao (Nomadland) about her home country also irked the authorities.

Beijing has crushed the Hong Kong movement in Revolution of Our Times. The repressive National Security Law has resulted in the arrest of activists and opposition politicians. The crackdown also had the intended effect of driving protestors overseas or into a state of self-censorship.

The Hong Kong school curriculum has been rewritten, books have been banned, and pro-democracy journalists arrested at their jobs.

In July, The Apple Daily, a popular pro-democracy Hong Kong newspaper, was forced to close after its offices were raided by police and five editors and executives arrested. The CCP said in a statement that the publication had abused “so-called freedom of the press.” The Apple Daily‘s outspoken founder, Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, was arrested and remains in prison on charges of national security offenses that carry life imprisonment.

Recent rewriting of censorship rues ensures that Revolution of Our Times will not be screened in the city.