Meet the Controversial Hong Kong Indie That China Doesn't Want You to See

Ten Years - H 2016
Hong Kong International Film Festival

Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times has called 'Ten Years,' comprising vignettes that reveal a dystopic vision of Hong Kong's future in which political freedoms have been eroded by China's control, a "virus of the mind."

This story first appeared in the March 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

The most talked-about recent film phenomenon in Hong Kong centers on the territory's tiniest local release. The dark, provocative indie drama Ten Years was produced on a microbudget of $75,000 and opened in December at a single cinema in Hong Kong's Yau Ma Tei district. A surprise run of sellout screenings resulted in the movie beating the local per-screen average of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which opened the following day.

Ten Years comprises five shorts — all set in the year 2025, and each directed by a different Hong Kong filmmaker — that explore ways in which life in the territory might change during the next decade. Collectively, the vignettes reveal a dystopic vision of Hong Kong's future in which human rights and political freedoms in the semiautonomous territory have been eroded by the incursion of mainland China's control.

The film struck an immediate chord among a Hong Kong populace worried about its future.

"Many in the audience told us they hadn't gone to the cinema to watch a movie for a long time," says Jevons Au Man-Kit, one of the film's five directors. "But they came to support Ten Years. It was more than just a movie to them — it's about their home."

Mainland China's state-controlled media, however, has responded with vitriol. Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times called the movie "absurd," "pessimistic" and a "virus of the mind," and state broadcaster CCTV notified the Hong Kong Film Awards — the city's top cinematic trophy ceremony, which has nominated Ten Years for best picture — that it would not air the April 3 show for the first time since 1991.

The filmmakers believe their surprise success and the harsh reaction from Beijing have added to a climate of fear. In early February, indie cinemas suspended screenings of Ten Years despite robust attendance.

"From my point of view, the screenings definitely stopped prematurely," says Jevons. "We were bringing in a full house, even on weekdays during the daytime, but they still chose to cut off the screenings. I'm afraid [Hong Kong filmmakers] will exercise more self-censorship next time now that Ten Years became a big hit."

In the meantime, the Hong Kong International Film Festival has taken the courageous step of including a March 22 special screening of the movie in its lineup. And the international market soon could offer support to Jevons and his peers: Golden Scene picked up overseas rights to the title and will shop it to global buyers at the upcoming Filmart.