Mon, Mar 19, 2018 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: Beijing instills fear far beyond its borders, director says

Filmmaker Kevin Lee’s latest documentary, ‘Self-censorship,’ explores how China limits freedom of expression in Hong Kong and Taiwan. In an interview with ‘Taipei Times’ staff reporter Huang Tai-lin, Lee likened making the documentary to starting a movement, which he hopes would make more people contemplate the meaning of democracy and understand that they need to do more than vote

Filmmaker Kevin Lee, left, stands with former Causeway Bay Books manager Lam Wing-kei, center, and co-director Lu Pei-lin at a special screening of the documentary Self-censorship in Taipei on March 1.

Photo: Pan Shao-tang, Taipei Times

Taipei Times (TT): What prompted you to shoot “Self-censorship” (并:控制) in the first place?

Kevin Lee (李惠仁): I got the idea for the film after I attended the Taipei Film Festival’s award ceremony on July 16, 2016. That month had been eventful in East Asia. Earlier that month, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, in a ruling invalidated Chinese claims in the South China Sea.

Unhappy with the ruling, Chinese netizens began circulating a map of China that included Taiwan, alongside a message that read: “China cannot be one bit less” (中國,一點都不能少). Taiwanese actress Ruby Lin’s (林心如) studio also reposted the map, which Lin later said reflected her personal stance as well.

Then, there was an incident involving [Taiwanese actor/director] Leon Dai (戴立忍), who was allegedly a supporter of Taiwanese independence. In response to demands that he clarify his political stance, he issued a 3,000-word statement saying that he did not support Taiwanese independence; nevertheless, he was replaced in a movie by the film’s Chinese production team.

I was quite saddened by the whole incident, because supposedly in cinema, creative freedom is what we strive for, but what we witnessed was [an artist] being treated so brutally.

Incidentally the award ceremony took place one day after the announcement of Dai’s replacement and I thought that given what happened to him, people in a democratic country would lend support to him at occasions such as the ceremony. However, that was not what I encountered. Media even reported afterwards that many artists refused to comment on the incident backstage.

So when I was called on stage to accept the award for my film The Taste of Apples (蘋果的滋味), I voiced support for Dai and also expressed appreciation for Taiwan’s democracy, which allows us to dive into creative work in a free environment. A Hong Kong-based TV station owner saw what I did on stage and sought contact with an idea to shoot an anti-communist film.

I recall asking him: “why me of all directors in Taiwan?”

He said that shortly after the Democratic Progressive Party assumed power in 2016, he had sought cooperation with two other Taiwanese directors, who he each quoted as having asked him whether cooperating with him on such a film would affect their career outlooks in China.

I accepted the Hong Kong company’s offer on the condition that there must be no interference in the process. Two months later we handed in the proposal for Self-censorship and they were happy with it, so we began shooting.

In June last year, when we were about to head to Hong Kong to document the 20th anniversary of the UK’s handover of Hong Kong to China, the TV station owner was in Taiwan and so we met. However, as I updated him on the film’s progress, he began voicing objection over some content we had shot. I then realized that he wanted to infuse the film with his opinion, which was totally unacceptable to me, because that would mean crossing a red line. So, after our return from the scheduled Hong Kong trip, we ended the cooperation contract with him.

Some friends asked me why we terminated the contract when otherwise I could have continued to receive financial backing from the company. My answer was: “Yes, but it also means that the company can then decide not to release the film after it is finished.”

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