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Interview: Connie Chan, Hong Kong Human Rights Documentary Film Festival curator

"It’s important for people in Hong Kong to know this happens in China because it could happen here"

With all the superhero flicks and cutesy animated movies that pour into cinemas on a regular basis, it can be hard to remember that films needn’t be so frivolous. 

Enter the sixth edition of the Amnesty International Hong Kong Human Rights Documentary Film Festival. With 11 movies in its lineup, the festival is not the largest of its kind but it is the hardest hitting. This year’s films examine the plight of artists in countries such as China, Afghanistan and Myanmar and look at the threats they face and the kind of change they are trying to enact. Connie Chan, the festival’s curator and a senior campaigner at Amnesty International, tells us more…

There are many film festivals in Hong Kong, so what sets this one apart?
We are the only film festival that focuses on human rights in Hong Kong and we’ve been doing this for six years. We feel it’s like providing a public education in human rights.

How did the first festival come about?
Before we started the film festival, we tried other cultural activities to engage with Hongkongers. We tried lots of different methods, like live shows and getting local bands to sing about human rights. But it was really difficult for us to organise that kind of show because not many songs talk about human rights [laughs]. Then we tried drawing posters but the idea wasn’t particularly popular with students. 

Do you think there’s a need to raise awareness of human rights in Hong Kong?
It depends what kind issue you’re talking about. Freedom of expression, democracy, LGBT rights – those topics are quite common for young people. But when you talk about the death penalty, about refugees, it’s more remote and removed from their lives.

What is the theme of this year’s festival?
This year the theme is art and human rights because we found many human rights activists use art as a weapon against their difficulties, whether they’re writers, painters or film directors. We want to use these films to talk about their different issues.

What is your favourite film in this year’s line up?
I was a journalist before, so Frame by Frame is very close to me personally. It talks about four photojournalists in Afghanistan and how they take pictures. Under the Taliban you couldn’t take pictures. It was illegal to take a picture of a living thing. This is a documentary about how the photojournalists challenge the powers by providing truthful reporting.

Are there any themes or countries in particular that you want to focus on?
China, because it’s close to us. I recommend Hooligan Sparrow to everyone. This woman [Ye Haiyan] is a very famous advocate in sexual abuse cases in China. The film documents how the police harass her. I think this is an everyday issue – the human rights defender being arrested by the police or put under surveillance. This happens a lot in China. It’s important for people in Hong Kong to know this happens in China, because it could happen here in the future.

What do you hope viewers will take away from the festival?
After the Umbrella Movement, I find that young people are quite worried about Hong Kong’s situation. And they’re feeling powerless. They don’t know what they can do. So we want to use the film festival to encourage them. I hope they’ll feel empowered by the human rights defenders. Everyone can change the world and make it more just.

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