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Propagandist or objective observer? Independent documentaries in/on Hong Kong's recent social movements

Kristof Van den Troost (Centre for China Studies, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, Hong Kong SAR)

Asian Education and Development Studies

ISSN: 2046-3162

Article publication date: 10 November 2020

Issue publication date: 6 June 2022




This article explores recent changes in Hong Kong’s independent documentary filmmaking during a decade of escalating protests in the territory, focusing in particular on cinema's role in Hong Kong's “movement field.”


The article focuses on Ying E Chi, an important distributor and promoter of Hong Kong independent films; the annual Hong Kong Independent Film Festival it organizes; three recent documentaries it distributes that are relevant to the 2019–2020 protests. The findings in this article are based on interviews, the textual analysis of relevant films and participant observation at film screenings.


This study argues that independent documentaries function in Hong Kong's “movement field” in three main ways: by contributing to and providing a space for civic discourse, by facilitating international advocacy and by engaging in memory work. Its contributions to civic culture, it asserts, are reflected in the films' observational aesthetic, which invites reflection and discussion. Public screenings and lengthy post-screening discussions are important ways in which these functions are realized.


This article builds on existing literature to propose a new way of thinking about cinema's role in Hong Kong social movements. It also analyses three important recent films that have not yet been covered much in existing academic literature.



The author is grateful to Vincent Chui and Nora Lam who generously made themselves available for lengthy interviews. Vincent gave the author access to copies of Taking Back the Legislature and Inside the Red Brick Wall, without which the last part of this article would have been impossible to write. The author also thanks the two anonymous reviewers who offered insightful suggestions to improve this text – any remaining shortcomings are the author’s responsibility. Finally, the author’s gratitude also goes to Janet Lau and Tinky Wong who assisted with transcribing and translating the interviews.


Van den Troost, K. (2022), "Propagandist or objective observer? Independent documentaries in/on Hong Kong's recent social movements", Asian Education and Development Studies, Vol. 11 No. 3, pp. 571-580.



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