Parjanya Christian Holtz is a German filmmaker based in Copenhagen.
When Hong Kong’s protests broke out in June, I was 5,000 miles away in Copenhagen. I saw headlines but was ignorant of the scale and complexity of what has become a de facto war against creeping authoritarianism.
It was only through a chance encounter with two students from Hong Kong that I became aware of the passion and ingenuity at the movement’s core. The young couple with warm, big smiles excitedly showed me a stack of fliers they had printed to hand out at the university they were attending in Europe that summer. The small pieces of paper explained protesters’ opposition to a proposed law to allow Hong Kongers to be extradited to China on criminal charges.
I was struck by how the couple sacrificed time and money to inform strangers about a political situation on the other side of the world. I needed to learn more. I wanted to understand how and why, week after week, up to 2 million people peacefully took to the streets to demonstrate.
I began to piece together the story of a city full of highly educated young adults, desperately fighting for a future that includes the freedoms China promised for half a century when it took over the semiautonomous territory from Britain in 1997.
The Hong Kong government has relented to calls to withdraw the extradition bill, but it has not budged on other demands. So, every weekend, thousands gather to ask for universal suffrage and an independent investigation into police violence. And, almost every weekend, police fire hundreds of rounds of tear gas in response, ending rallies in violent clashes and mass arrests.
Just this week alone, Hong Kong police shot a pro-democracy protester, and a man doused another man in liquid and set him on fire. They had been arguing about national identity. This is Hong Kong today.
I flew to the island to film the unrest just as it was turning especially violent. With this short documentary, I attempt to not only dissect the movement’s complexities but also help viewers understand the highly organized rules of engagement that have developed over the past five months.
This is a battle many protesters are afraid they cannot win. And yet they continue to fight. As I wove through the streets with a teacher, a student and a tech worker to find out how and why this movement keeps on going, I began to realize that this seemingly impossible fight should matter to all of us.