Monday, November 16, 2020

DOC NYC ’20: Some Way Out of Here (short)

In all fairness, the American media has done a decent job of covering events in Hong Kong—when they have bothered. Unfortunately, they have been more interested in reporting on Teddy Roosevelt statue controversies than seven million people losing their freedom. It is the exact opposite for the Mainland Chinese state-controlled media’s constant, heavily biased, widely inaccurate coverage. The exception would be Boning Li, a Chinese NYU film student, who did a terrific job documenting the protests in the short film, Some Way Out of Here, which screens as part of the 2020 (online) DOC NYC’s NYU short doc block.

Li was already sufficiently cognizant of CCP propaganda, to understand how heavily subjects like the Tiananmen Square Massacre were censored in his homeland. As a result, he could “get” Sanmu Chan’s Tiananmen-themed protest art. He was struck by the power of his work, as well as the artist’s grizzled charisma, so he started recording his activities as the leader of a drum band attending the protests.

Chan’s gallery Green Wave Art, was a hub for dissident art, a safe haven for protesters fleeing abusive cops, and the headquarters of a volunteer first-aid team, but its days were numbered. For blatantly political reasons, the local puppet government suddenly informed him his gallery required an “entertainment license.” As Li captures the gallery’s final days, he concurrently records the increasing tensions on the street and the escalating violence from the HK cops and their allies, the white-shirted Triad-affiliated thugs, who perpetrated the now infamous Yuen Long train station attack, while the police stood idly by.

American journalists could learn a lot from Li’s film. He does not simply ask Chan softball questions. He challenges him with the conduct of some protesters. Yet, he follows the story where it takes him: squarely in the line of fire, choking on tear gas that cops deliberately directed towards reporters.

Li’s film is important in multiple ways. It is a gutsy piece of journalism that faithfully reports the attitudes and actions of Chan and his fellow protesters, as well as the brutality of the Beijing-dominated government. Perhaps even more significantly, it records the filmmaker’s own awakening of conscious, as he comes to reject CCP propaganda and start identifying with cause of HK local democracy. That is a hard process, but we see it happen during the course of the film, even though Li is rarely seen on-camera.

Some Way Out of Here
is only thirty-one minutes long, but it could be the most important film screening during DOC NYC. Not surprisingly, Chan was subsequently interrogated during a trip to the Mainland, so the more widely he is known internationally, the safer he will be. More fundamentally, Li’s film can give viewers who are not well grounded in recent HK events a nutshell understanding of what is happening there. The president-elect should definitely watch it. Everyone should. Very highly recommended, Some Way Out of Here screens as part of the NYU short doc block at this year’s DOC NYC.