Mundane in The Mayhem. Hong Kong: City on Fire Documentary Screening 22 November

Dartmouth Films

Culture Editor Rachel Cronin chats to award-winning producer Sinead Kirwan about her newest documentary, screening exclusively in Odeon cinemas 22 November.

Hong Kong City on Fire (Dartmouth Films)

A powerful collection of footage from the height of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong paints a devasting yet hopeful picture of unity in times of conflict. Award-winning film producer Sinead Kirwan’s third documentary was recorded by two Hong Kong-based filmmakers and directors. Created by Dartmouth films, we follow four faces from the frontline fight for democracy after the introduction of the Chinese Government’s National Security Law in 2019. A poignant and honest reflection of the continuation of daily life amidst police brutality is revealed through the perspectives of a student, teenage couple and young father.

In retaliation to a news focus on anonymous violence, the Scotland-based producer and team of Hong Kong filmmakers decided to focus on day-to-day life in the city. ‘With foreign journalists, I think there was a frustration with the focus on violence, and only telling one side of the story,’ explains producer Sinead Kirwan. ‘And of course, there is violence in our film. And there are people protesting quite extremely in some cases. But they felt like the other side of the story wasn’t being told, that these were ordinary people’.

Amongst unforgettable scenes of violence, tender moments between loved ones are shown throughout the film, revealing an emotional rawness that gouges deeper. An unsuccessful attempt to rouse a teenage boy out of bed for school seems more than mundane (until we learn he was shot with a water cannon by police the night before). ‘These protestors weren’t doing it because they were naturally radical,’ the producer continues, ‘they had personal lives. They had other commitments, but they really felt it was important to come out. And I think that’s why the film gives a very authentic picture of what was happening.’

Hong Kong City on Fire (Dartmouth Films)

Not only can this hopeful (if heavy) film reveal truths about the goings on in the heavily-policed city of Hong Kong. But in such a time of political instability in the UK, it can also serve as a warning. ‘I think people were taken by surprise by the National Security Law’ the filmmaker notes. ‘And I think we can watch the film and be made aware that we should keep our eyes on our own democracy as well. It’s really important to see that sometimes these draconian pieces of legislation can sort of sneak in. And then once they’re in, it’s very hard to do anything about them.’

The documentary will be shown for one night only in Glasgow Odeon cinemas this Tuesday 22 November, followed by a virtual Q&A with Kirwan and activist, Fermi Wong.  ‘It’s a great opportunity to maybe meet some people from Hong Kong who have moved here recently,’ the filmmaker finishes. ‘See the film, maybe go to the pub afterwards and have a discussion. And that’s part of the aim of the film. It’s obviously very powerful, very moving and kind of exciting. But we also really hope that the actual cinema event itself will be quite powerful- to have a mixed group of young people and students coming together to find out about each other’s history.’