After Matthew Torne’s movie “Lessons in Dissent” shown in cinema this early April in Hong Kong, it certainly arouses many discussions among public on the issue of the social movement during this few years. I was lucky enough to secure an interview with Mr. Torne to discuss his views on the identity crisis in Hong Kong people and the society changes mentioned in his latest movie. Mr. Torne was educated at the University of Kent and Oxford university back in UK, and further studied film production at the Hong Kong Film Academy. Filmed over a year and a half, “Lessons in Dissent” is a vivid portrait of a new generation of Hong Kongers involved their efforts into democracy activists. Following a year of protest by the two main casts in this movie, Joshua Wong and Ma Jai, who are student activists that rose to prominence in 2012 at Hong Kong. Many audience were curious about the background of Torne after watching the movie, since it completely rare for a foreigner who actually knows so much about the history of Hong Kong and even interested to film a documentary for the people in the city. Knowing the dissertation of his masters degree is about Hong Kong’s post-1997 political development and the possible options for demarcation reform, have giving the thought that he must has begun his interest in Modern Chinese back in university or even earlier. However, I am far more curious on what made him development his interest into film industry.
“What is the point for keep writing my research paper or dissertation if it just sit in the library shelf and gathering dust, I need much wider audience than the readership of academic papers.” Torne said.
Despite on how others’ people thought his idea is insane, he endure those tough days without enough funding and sponsor for the film, even had to live in a sub-divided flat just to save money on the film, because he has the motivation to persuade his dream whenever he saw those young social activists undertake such difficult task when they both stood to loose so much personally. He hopes the telling of the teenage boys’ story will help Hong Kongers especially the older generation to reflect on the current situation and find their courage to start changing their life instead of giving a sigh and just live the life the way it is.
When Torne came to Hong Kong during the summer at 2011, he was hoping to shoot a documentary and find a theme within the political about Hong Kong. At first, he was doing interviews with some well-known member of the council and try to learn more about the political system.
“It started of like BBCs style, not something I really prefer at first, then those young social activists stood out to me as a vehicle for exploring the Hong Kong identity after the Handover. Yet, I did not expect the anti-national education protest to be so vast. And with that recorded in the documentary, he believes is one of the most precious thing that shown how the youth have taken their steps forward to fight for the better future of Hong Kong.” Toren said.
Back to the film itself, if anyone who have watched may notice there is not much of narration instead of many scenes are about the experience and daily life portrait of the two characters, combined with some short text to explain the background of the event. Toren explains the idea came from those boring documentary he has watched before, and through the filming process he kept reminding himself not to shoot a boring documentary, as he understood the bias of local hold when it comes to documentary. The action, entertaining frames is a key figure of concern during the filming, so he tried to use different ways of narrative structure rather than any others ordinary documentaries with historical description. Moreover, even the Chinese title of the film and each chapter is named in Cantonese slang, not just aim to increase the intimacy, but at the same hopes to break the moderate and radical attitudes of public alienation since eventually I would love to dedicate this film to every single Hong Kongers.
“I went to the film festival in Bucharest back in 2011, there are even films about Cambodia, but nothing about Hong Kong or even China. I am confused why people from Hong Kong do not praised their own city like the New Yorkers…From what I have seen, the uniqueness of Hong Kong is being dismantle, yet, many people do not seem to bother or stand up and fight for their rights.” Toren said.
After what Toren said, I felt a bit ashamed that even as a Hong Konger, I never went to any protest or care about the polity of the city. Toren shot the film for the youth who willing to fight for their future, also brought out the question about sense of responsibility among the people in Hong Kong. Besides, one of the most pictures he would definitely love to see is different parties of council or social activists could come to the premiere.
“My film is mainly about them, and with all my respect and care about the social movement, I surly would love to have them in the premiere and welcome for any discuss and criticize.” Toren said.
There is no doubt that the culture of Hong Kong fascinated Toren. As he claimed that if he would love to earn more money, he would not chosen Hong Kong or filming a documentary at first. The addiction of Hong Kong is what leading him follow his dream to film what he feels right, even without enough money for the next film at the moment, Toren has his mind set on his core ‘addiction’ as the theme of next project.
“The people of Hong Kong identity has always been my core interest, not that I found it is fascinating, but also something I never experienced. For me, Londoners, British, European, all those three identities sit in without any conflict at all…My identity is not determined by the government, the royal family or anyone else but me. So I guess the identity wrestling in Hong Kong which really taught me fascinated.” Toren said.
Toren further mentioned in “Lessons in Dissent ”, the quest of identity of Hong Konger may not be the central line of the message to the audience, however, he still wishes the film help people start thinking what does it mean to be ‘Hong Konger’ in post 1997 Hong Kong. He would love to see people in Hong Kong stop living in the colonial and the government will not just follow orders from Beijing, and he believe in democracy and that everyone voice is equal and should be heard.