Hong Kong filmmaker Derek Chiu Sung-Kee was recently in the city to attend the 11th Bengaluru International Film Festival as his film No 1. Chung Ying Street was screened in the Asian Competition category. The controversial film is based on the 1967 riots in Hong Kong against British colonial rule, and the 2014 Umbrella Movement.
In an exclusive conversation with Indianexpress.com, Derek Chiu revealed his determination to continue making socially and politically relevant films that will reflect Hong Kong’s quest for self-determination. Apart from direction, he also produced No 1. Chung Ying Street as the film did not attract any investors, mainly because they were well aware that the film won’t pass the Chinese censor board.
Derek Chiu Sung-Kee is currently working as an associate professor at the School of Creative Media in Hong Kong. The teaching job guarantees him a regular income and also allows him to pursue his career as an independent filmmaker.
Here are excerpts from the conversation:
Did you watch any movies here?
I watched a film about a Nigerian boy and football (referring to Sudani from Nigeria). I enjoyed it very much. It was not a usual Bollywood movie.
Why do you say so?
I loved the subject matter. It is about a boy from Africa and a local coach. There is a cultural clash and it was very interesting.
Do you watch Indian films?
I watch some Indian movies in Hong Kong. The commercial films have quite a good run at the box office.
Very few Indian films make it to prestigious international film festivals. What do you think about that?
I think Indian culture is very attractive to many people. I remember in 2013 when I came to India for the first time, I took the tour of the Golden Temple, Taj Mahal, Varanasi. These places were amazing.
How to tell a story is not important. I think the story itself must be very interesting. When I went to other film festivals, I watched other Indian films. I have some advice to Indian filmmakers: you need some expert to take your movie outside of the country. How to distribute and take it to the film festival is another job. And it’s not the job of the director. Indian commercial movies create a lot of interest in Asian countries but their format is not for film festivals. They should make more artistic movies.
Do you self-censor yourself while writing your films?
Yes. In Hong Kong, before it was handed over to China, there was no problem. They only saw if your film was commercial enough. Now, we have to face censorship. So many filmmakers self-censor themselves so they can co-produce films with Chinese companies.
Is it hard for political films to pass China’s censorship?
Yes. They (Chinese) were brought up and educated to (blindly) follow their country’s rules. It was not like this before in Hong Kong. The only question we faced was whether our films were commercial enough but now, we face a moral problem. But if you want to go into the Chinese market, you need to face it.
Does such heavy censorship frustrate you?
Of course. I took eight years to finish my movie No.1 Chung Ying Street. We knew the subject matter will not please the Chinese government and we cannot raise any money. Because every investor asks you whether you can pass the censorship and go into the Chinese market. If the answer is no, you get no money. My movie went to 10 film festivals and won some awards. But, the Hong Kong International Film Festival did not play my movie. It’s a movie based on Hong Kong history. Even if you think that the technique was not good enough for the jury, it’s a Hong Kong movie. So why don’t you screen it at the Hong Kong film festival?
Have you thought about not making such political films and please everyone by making commercial films?
This is why I remain an independent filmmaker. Of course, I want to become a commercial director and earn money. But that’s why I made No.1 Chung Ying Street independently. I made 17 films before this one and they all were semi-commercial. After 1997, when censorship of China became so serious, I joined a university to teach. I took the job because I could be purely an independent filmmaker. I need money for living.