Friday the 22nd, I found myself in Chinatown, watching short films in Cantonese, with tears down my cheeks. It was because these films were so powerful, so fascinating, so poignant. At the Hong Kong Contemporary Film Festival, there were 5 films shown on opening night:
- Leave them High and Dry, directed by Wong Fei Pang — This film told the story of Special Educational Needs students in Hong Kong. We see snippits from the life of Heng, a student with severe learning disabilities and how he manages through school. We see his mother and how frustrated she becomes while trying to help her son and while fighting the school for better accomidation for his needs. We see his classmates bully him mercilessly. The overarching question is how to care for students with special needs in a way that allows them to have a life after school.
- Let’s Leave Together, directed by Lau Sai Wing — In this film, two strangers meet on a street, each on a walk to meet their significant other. They begin to discuss travel. And in an interesting plot twist (which I won’t spoil), we ponder the complexities of leaving one’s home.
- Karl, directed by Huang Yuqing: This short film follows Karl, a student from Chinese University of Hong Kong, as he partakes in a protest against the Hong Kong government, hoping to garner true democracy. Karl must face backlash from his family as well as society as a whole. Huang Yuqing really takes us to the front lines of this monumental clash, known as “Occupy Central,” and by the end of the film, we see where Karl will go from here.
- Gap Song, directed by Ka-Man Tse: This film without any words is about Gahp Song, a practice of sharing your food with loved ones before eating your own dish. The film was created between 2009 and 2016 and is still continuing, as Ka-Man Tse adds more and more clips to the reel. We see young couples, family members, friends, and more. Some of it will make you laugh and some of it will remind you of home. It’s really a beautiful piece, as it’s universal. It was filmed in New York, California, Hong Kong, and Taiwan… this is not a practice limited to a certain culture, rather a widespread habit.
- The Sea Within, directed by Wong Wai-Nap: This final piece follows a couple having trouble because Ah Shing (Mei-wah’s husband) insists on spending his days fishing, despite the low income it brings them. And although we see them fighting and we see Mei-wah’s great frustration, their love for each other prevails throughout the film.
Each one of these pieces were absolutely lovely and I highly recommend watching them if you get a chance. As for myself, I have a few people to thank for making this experience possible. First, I’d like to thank Tiffany Fung, an artist from Hong Kong who is in the Arts Politics Masters program at NYU, Dorothy Lam;ZiHong, a curator who graduated from NYU in studio art at Steinhardt, and Emily Yin, an artist and curator studying art history at USC. These lovely women curated the entire event and really breathed the life into it that made it such a wonderful experience.
At the end of the film showing, Fung and Lam set up a Skype call with the filmmakers in Hong Kong, as well as an in-person Q&A session with Ka-Man Tse (the director of Gap Song). They worked through technical difficulties and asked some wonderful questions and even translated the Cantonese themselves. I also have to thank Distill HK, a community of artists with a connection to Hong Kong. This festival was Distill’s inaugural event, which leads me to think that it has a very bright future. If this was their first event, I can only imagine how great their next ones will be. Keep your eyes and ears open for more from this up and coming group that I’m sure will produce great art and events.