Hong Kong Protest-Related Streaming Platform Plans International Expansion

Next Film
A series of pro-democracy protests have roiled Hong Kong for much of 2019.

“We want Hong Kong's stories to be told,” said Jevons Au, director of Next Film, the short film streaming platform launched in late November.

Next Film, a newly launched Hong Kong streaming platform created by a collective of filmmakers and political activists, has plans for an international service in order to export pro-democracy stories from the city that has been racked by protests for seven straight months.

Launched in late November by Next Digital media group, the streaming service is overseen by Jevons Au, who co-directed two Hong Kong Film Awards Best Film winners two years in a row, the dystopic but prescient Ten Years and the nostalgic Trivisa. Au’s producer on Ten Years Ng Ka Leung and Trivsa writer Thomas Ng take charge of the content.

Three types of content are available on the platform: fictional shorts, documentary shorts and lifestyle content about food and traveling. Presently, Next Film offers stories about how the protests that began as resistance against a now-shelved extradition bill have affected the people of Hong Kong. There are a series of documentaries featuring participants in various capacities — frontliners, high school students, the elderly leader of the “Protect Our Children” mediator group and Yuli, the Indonesian journalist/domestic helper who was detained for weeks and later deported by the immigration department for reporting on the protests.

Currently, the platform’s content can only be accessed by subscribers of Apple Daily in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the U.S. The daily is one of the most widely read newspapers and online news platforms in Hong Kong. The Next Film streaming service is now in Chinese, but the operators have plans to launch versions in different languages, in order to reach a wider global audience. 

“For now, some of the shorts have English subtitles, and we are going to submit some of them to film festivals in Europe,” Au told The Hollywood Reporter. “We’ve been approached by film festival programmers. International versions of our service is our next step. But we’d need some time to execute these steps. We hope we can bring these stories to more people.” The platform is also looking into working with streaming platforms with global presence for distribution of its content.

Next Film was initiated by Jimmy Lai, founder and owner of Next Digital, which is one of the very few mass media companies in Hong Kong that is not staunchly pro-Beijing. Next Digital publishes Apple Daily and Next Magazine, both vocal in their support of the recent protests. Incidentally, Lai was originally the owner of a hugely successful Hong Kong clothing brand who launched Apple Daily in the early 1990s in response to the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre. Lai reached out to Au late last year to ask him to come up with an idea that can help young emerging filmmakers. Au started setting up Next Film last December, before any inkling of the protests involving millions that would put Hong Kong under the world’s spotlight. Au naturally recruited his former colleagues to manage the production, leading an in-house creative team and also working with independent filmmakers. They also scout quality products abroad to be streamed on the platform.

Although the initial idea for the platform is not protest-related, when it came time for it to be launched in November, it became rather inevitable that the pro-democracy movement was featured heavily in the fictional shorts produced by aspiring filmmakers. “The platform is not only for the movement, nor is it only political,” said Ng Ka Leung. “But since we serve a mass audience — the Apple Daily readership, what captures their imagination these days and might spark a discussion unavoidably touches on politics and the movement. The young filmmakers we work with are also inclined to tell stories related to the protest, but not all of them. We do have young directors and writers who make films about leisure or comedies that are not at all political.”

But the pro-democracy movement, gripping Hong Kong locals across all socioeconomic strata, proves all-encompassing and all-consuming for the majority of the population, not least of all creative people. “Young filmmakers want to respond to what is happening in the society,” Au elaborated. “If a filmmaker is attuned to their surroundings, it’s difficult to escape from what is happening. For instance, if tear gas has been fired just outside your door, you can hardly make a film as if in a parallel universe. They show in their work what they are feeling at this moment. The thing is, if I make something totally unrelated to the movement, basically nobody would be interested.”

He added, “It’s like when you open your Facebook or Instagram, your feed is flooded by protest-related posts. A friend even said to me, ‘if you post a picture of you out eating and drinking on social media, I’d unfriend you.’ If this is the state we are now in, filmmakers won’t be exempt. Many became depressed after police’s siege of Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Polytechnic University. You can’t force them to make something that seems detached from reality. So I just let them tell whatever stories they want to tell.”

“Filmmaking is an organic process and has a life of its own,” said Thomas Ng. “What’s happening is too massive; it's inescapable. But we’d never ask our filmmakers to tell only political stories. If someone wants to make a romantic comedy, they’re free to do so.”

“All of us participating in this platform want to get our voice out,” said Au. “We want Hong Kong's stories to be told. We’re lucky that our voices are being heard.’