The first international human rights film festival organized by a mainland Chinese NGO opened in Hong Kong in December 2016. Hong Kong Free Press reported that the director of the NGO, former bookseller (whose inventory included publications banned in the mainland) Li Dan, launched the 1905 Hong Kong Human Rights Film Festival as a means to indirectly target a mainland audience and promote human rights education and discussion in China.
According to Li, many mainland directors refused to have their films shown at the festival. Recent detentions of countless human rights activists and lawyers, including the lawyer of outspoken government critic and artist Ai Weiwei, have caused artists, writers, and filmmakers to harbor trepidation over the government’s perception of their work.
While Li has stated that the intent of the festival and its films is not to criticize the government, film nonetheless can act as potent forms of sociopolitical commentary and criticism. Films like “Ten Years”, the Hong Kong-produced dystopia that chronicles life in 2025 as the communist Chinese government exerts increasing sociopolitical influence on Hong Kong society, vividly depict the erosion of personal freedoms and human rights under near-authoritarian control. Mentions of the film’s accolades were, unsurprisingly, censored in mainland China. Chinese Communist Party-controlled newspaper Global Times labelled the film “ridiculous”, and a “virus of the mind”.
Though the 1905 Festival has erred heavily on the side of caution to avoid provoking the wrath of the Chinese government, it has nonetheless played an important role in bringing issues of social justice, human rights, political freedom to art and film.
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