China is pretending that Hong Kong’s “Best Film” award winner doesn’t exist

Dystopian vision.
Dystopian vision.
Image: Ten Years
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If it had been up to the Chinese government, the 35th Hong Kong Film Awards, held yesterday (April 3), would have skipped the “Best Picture” category.

This year’s award committee chose Ten Years as the category’s winner. The film consists of five vignettes that paint a bleak picture of Hong Kong in a decade’s time, as the Communist Party of China continues to assert its influence on the city. Mandarin replaces Cantonese, school children raid local shops Cultural Revolution-style, and young adults desperate to restore democracy resort to self-immolation.

The film was a hit in the Fragrant Harbor. It generated HK$6 million ($773,704) in box office revenues on its opening weekend—and more per-screen than Star Wars: The Force Awakens in at least one theater.

Chinese media outlets have muted coverage of the award and the ceremony. What was once a major event in the greater Chinese film industry is now a topic to dodge.

In a special section covering the awards, online media outlet Netease Entertainment lists the winners (link in Chinese) in the competition’s major categories. But the coverage begins with “Best Director.” The category for Best Film, where Ten Years would go, is conspicuously absent. Readers can learn about the detective thriller Port of Call and its seven awards, or read interviews with Best Actress winner Jessie Li, but there’s no mention of Ten Years.

Meanwhile the Global Times, an English-language state media outlet, published a piece yesterday describing the event as a drab affair:

The inside of the center was fairly quiet. Though over-size posters of stars set to attend the film ceremony had been set up, they were in a corner where people would only see them if they happened to walk by. The stars in their fine suits were smiling or making cool poses, but seemed lonely due to the lack of attention.

The piece didn’t mention any of the nominated films, including Ten Years.

The blackout on coverage of the film’s victory is not surprising. In February, state broadcaster CCTV announced that it would not broadcast the event on television. Online media giant Tencent also told the Hong Kong Film Award Association it would not stream the event on the web. There’s no entry for the film on Douban, China’s answer to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).

In the lead-up to yesterday’s event, publishers wrote editorials arguing the ceremony has lost its relevance. A February piece in the People’s Daily, a state mouthpiece paper, called the institution an “old folks’ gathering,” noting how many of the nominees are around the age of 50.

Due to its subject matter, it’s extremely unlikely that Ten Years will see official release China. Its commercial fate in Hong Kong is also uncertain. It was pulled from theaters two months after its release—possibly due to the film running its course, or possibly due to self-censorship from theaters.

But grassroots interest in the film remains strong. On Friday, civic organizations launched over a dozen city-wide screenings at public venues throughout Hong Kong, each of which drew in hundreds of viewers.

With the award, the film’s artistic merits will no doubt be further debated in the months ahead. Its political value, however, has already been proven.