Anders Hammer’s Sundance selection Do Not Split takes on even greater significance in the light of renewed protests in Hong Kong, following the passing of the country’s new security laws. The director talks to Business Doc Europe.
Despite the sense of kinship one feels with the Hong Kong protesters in Do Not Split, the journalist in Anders Hammer was determined that the story should be told from three perspectives.
We meet the masked rebels – engaging, articulate, passionate, violent – and the camera goes behind police lines as well to reveal baby-faced and frightened officers. But we are also introduced to a constituency that receives little coverage, the older, placard-waving, finger-pointing pro-China activists who find the actions of their younger counterparts objectionable.
“At the beginning it was easier to film closer to the police, but that became harder and harder because you sort of had to insist on your right to do it,” says Hammer. “The pro-China protesters – I was trying to follow them as well. Sometimes you would hear that they had announced an event, like the so-called ‘pro-democracy’ protesters…Other times it would just happen… I have a background as a journalist, so I try to balance and show the different parts of the conflict.”
But the real action within Hammer’s visually stunning piece of reportage is found in the stand-offs and pitch battles between the pro-democracy folk and the law. Shot mainly at night, street lights and detonations illuminate the proceedings. Protesters advance and are repelled. Projectiles are thrown or fired (Molotov cocktails in the case of the protesters, rubber bullets – maybe even live ammunition – by the police). The dissenters wear black and are nimble, while the police are shiny and protected, but also cumbersome and slow. Amazing night-time drone shots show explosion after explosion behind the police lines as the cocktails hit their target.
As in a number of fantastical/mythical cinema offerings, we even witness the construction of a giant catapult to fire rocks, and an extended siege before an inevitable surrender.
The film isn’t without humour. In an opening sequence that resembles the hapless Spinal Tap’s pre-gig search for the door onto the stage, the protesters are to be found running back and forth looking for the Bank of China, asking passers-by where it is. Then when they find it, they can’t get in. When they eventually gain entry (there is an open door just around the corner) their retribution is swift, as they torch the building.
Hammer underlines the international flavour of the film which describes, he says, “easily one of the most important events in international politics last year.”
“This was me being a Norwegian working in Hong Kong [in] collaboration with an American company (Field of Vision, NY),” he says. He could easily have added the UK into the mix, a country that retains strong post-colonial links with Hong Kong, and who has offered citizenship to up to 3 million of its residents as a response to the new security laws imposed from Beijing. One protester in the film angrily opines how: “The British handed us over [in 1997] to China like a bag of potatoes. They sold us to China.”
“I wish Norway was more interested and more outspoken about what is happening in Hong Kong, but this is not a Norwegian project,” Hammer stresses. “The whole expansion of China and their political and economic ambitions, and the challenge to the democratic values in Hong Kong, really made me interested in trying to work on it. It’s the first time I ever made anything in Hong Kong. My aim was to be as close as possible, and to show it basically from the view of the streets.”
Hammer previously lived and worked in Afghanistan for 6 years, as well as working in Iraq and Syria, where he made the 3-part Our Allies series for Field Of Vision. (Field of Vision is described as “a filmmaker-driven visual journalism unit that commissions filmmakers and artists with developing and ongoing stories around the globe…committed to advocating for the rights and needs of filmmakers and supporting cinematic innovation and diversity.”)
The 20-minute Do Not Split was completed before its world-premiere at Sundance, and this version will continue to be presented at international film festivals, Hammer confirms, adding that “there is a possibility of putting in more sequences and to go closer on some of the characters and to tell the story in a different way… it sort of depends how you view it… but that’s the plan.”
“The conflict is still on-going, so what you see happening throughout last year continued into this year, and of course everything changed with the virus… but nothing is resolved in terms of the demands of the protesters.”