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Kiwi Chow’s film cannot be named in Hong Kong. But Revolution of Our Times is empowering the diaspora in Australia

As the beating of drums echoed through a cinema in Sydney, almost the entire audience, from the grey-haired man with a walking stick at the front to the teenager at the back, rose and sang the song that is now illegal in Hong Kong.

They had gathered for a screening of the Revolution of Our Times, a documentary about the mass protests that gripped the city in 2019.

It takes its name from the political slogan that took hold at the time: “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times.”

But under Hong Kong’s National Security Law, saying the phrase — and now this film’s title — out loud is viewed as inciting secession, an offense that carries a nine-year jail term.

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Besides its name, the film has been clouded by Chinese political pressure since its debut.

In July 2021, the film premiered on the last day of the Cannes Film Festival. It was only announced one day before the screening, as the host feared it would spark a backlash from Beijing.

Hong Kong passed a new film censorship law in October last year for bidding films that could violate the national security law, meaning publicly screening the film in the city was officially banned.

But outside Hong Kong, global audiences are filling theaters to watch the documentary.

Sydney’s Palace Cinema hosted a private screening of the Revolution of Our Times alongside a photo exhibition of the mass protests. (Supplied: Australia-Hong Kong Link )

Since April 1, the Hong Kong diaspora has been hosting private screenings in 23 countries including Australia, New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom and across Europe.

In Australia, nearly 10,000 people attended 53 screenings in Sydney, Melbourne, Cairns, Adelaide, Canberra, Brisbane, Perth, Moonah and Townsville during the three-week event.

Tickets sold out within 30 minutes of pre-sale opening, and organizers had to announce extra screenings to meet the huge demand.

As protest banners, yellow helmets and tear gas appeared on-screen, many in the audience shed tears.

The emotional weight of the film is not lost on director Kiwi Chow.

A man wearing glasses standing outside against the backdrop of the Hong Kong skyline
Kiwi Chow took significant personal risks to make his documentary. (Reuters: Lam Yik )

The 43-year-old, who still lives and works in Hong Kong, is keenly aware of the personal risks he has taken on by producing and releasing his documentary.

He has deleted all files related to the movie, and he occasionally dreams of being imprisoned.

“I’ve prepared for the risks [of being arrested],” he told ABC News.

Hong Kong’s murky law invites self-censorship and fear

Chow began making the documentary at a time when Hong Kong journalists, filmmakers, writers and artists were shackled by the fear of committing “word crimes”.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Hong Kong plunged to 148 among 180 countries and regions in its 2022 ranking of world press freedoms, a significant drop from 18th just two decades ago.

RSF describes Hong Kong’s national security law, launched in 2020 in response to the mass pro-democracy protests, as “a pretext to gag independent voices”, and warns its ambiguous phrasing could see it applied to any journalist covering Hong Kong, “regardless of their location”.

Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai is led away to a prison van in handcuffs after being charged
Media mogul Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, founder of Apple Daily, was charged under the national security law. (Reuters: Tyrone Siu)

Revolution of Our Times is not the only documentary effectively banned under Hong Kong’s contentious laws.

“Part of what makes the national security law so effective is that there are some red lines, but there’s also a lot of gray area,” Thomas E Kellogg, executive director of the Center for Asian Law at Georgetown University, said.

Chow said he “considered for a long while” before deciding to take the risk of making his film and using the controversial slogan for its title.

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