China Bans Broadcasts of Hong Kong Film Awards After Indie Political Movie Scores Nomination

Ten Years Still - H
Ten Years

Nominated for best picture, 'Ten Years' portrays a future Hong Kong stripped of human rights and political freedoms by mainland China.

Although Hong Kong movie stars remain some of the most beloved celebrities in mainland China, fans there won't be watching actors Andy Lau or Aaron Kwok walk the red carpet at the Hong Kong Film Awards this year.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, which has aired a replay of the event since 1991, notified the Hong Kong Film Awards Association on Saturday that it will not be airing this year's awards show, set to be held on April 3 at the Hong Kong Convention Centre. Chinese Internet giant Tencent also said it has canceled plans to broadcast the ceremony live online despite an existing contractual agreement to show the awards on its QQ streaming video service.

The sudden cancelations in mainland China are understood to be a response to the Hong Kong Film Awards' nomination of dark political drama Ten Years in the best picture category. Produced on an ultra-low budget, the film is comprised of five shorts, all set in the year 2025, and each directed by a different filmmaker exploring the ways in which life in Hong Kong may change. Collectively, the vignettes explore a dystopic vision of Hong Kong's future, in which human rights and political freedoms in the semi-autonomous territory have been eroded by the incursion of mainland Chinese control.

Established in 1982, the Hong Kong awards are the most prestigious film honors in Hong Kong and among the more respected in greater China. 

Derek Tung-Sing Yee, chairman of the Hong Kong Film Awards Association's board of directors, told local media outlets that he was informed by Tencent that China's Central Leading Group for Internet Security and Informatization, a high-level government body that oversees Internet security and censorship, had issued a ban on airing the awards.

"It’s a pity that the Chinese audience won’t be able to watch the awards, but it’s understandable,” Yee told Hong Kong's Apple Daily newspaper.

In a separate interview with Hong Kong's Ming Pao Daily, Yee said the association stands to lose out on an online broadcasting fee of some 5 million Hong Kong dollars ($643,000). “We can understand why this film exists and why this has become an issue,” he added.

Yee declined to comment when contacted by The Hollywood Reporter, and a representative from Tencent has yet to respond.

Produced on a budget of about $75,000, Ten Years became a phenomenon in Hong Kong after its Dec. 17 release. Initially shown on just one screen at the city's leading independent cinema, Broadway Cinematheque, the film attracted a wave of media attention when its sold-out showings beat the local per-screen average of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which debuted on Dec. 18. Two additional cinemas began showing the film, and it eventually grossed just shy of $1 million.

Local reviewers have praised Ten Years. The South China Morning Post called it "a reminder of the power of independent, intelligent filmmaking as a vehicle for social and political critique" and "one of the most thought-provoking local films in years."

State-controlled media outlets in mainland China, however, have heaped scorn on the picture. Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times called the movie "absurd," "pessimistic" and a "virus of the mind."

Political tensions have been simmering in Hong Kong since at least the Umbrella Movement in the fall of 2014, when tens of thousands of students and protestors took to the streets demanding political self-determination and democratic reform. 

The nominations and winners of the Hong Kong Film Awards are decided by a vote of the association's members. Yee told the Apple Daily that "this year's nominations were decided by a vote of 1,149 members, representing a participation rate of 63 percent, which is very high."