Responsibility and Meaning
Benny Chan (Member of v-artivist)
 

Speaking of documentary, there have always been the RTHK programs since my childhood, and during my university studies I came into contact with Social Movement Resource Centre (autonomous 8a ) and Video Power, all of which built up the concept of documentary I have now.  The name Ogawa Shinsuke came to me years later, and it was only then did I know there was actually a “grand master” sharing such similar beliefs and practicing more than thirty years ahead of our time.

Around the time when Mr. Ogawa and his team were shooting the documentaries in Sanrizuka, the social movement in Japan was burgeoning. It fought against such issues as the expansion of the base of the self-defense force, US-Japan Security Treaty, and the building of Narita Airport.  Seeing that the mainstream media did not tell the truths, and not happy with the studio system either, Mr. Ogawa left the cinema circle and started filming in Sanrizuka, standing on the same side as the villagers, living and even began farming with them. It was due to their respect and consideration for the relationship between the filmed and the filmer that Mr. Ogawa’s team, being the filmer, dedicated to making a connection with the life of the villagers out of the documenting process. After films were made, they took them to mini-cinemas all around the country, to perform the role of a certain kind of independent media to spread the messages from the oppressed people.

When I myself went into Choi Yuen Village with a camera, the villagers thought I was a reporter.  I told them I was here to shoot a documentary (of course they might not understand what that meant back then), and besides having them interviewed throughout numerous occasions, I cooperated with them in different kinds of activities, from neighborhood researches to public activities and protests…

It was from then on they came to recognize me as someone who walked with them with a video camera, who was responsible for recording and conveying their voice to the public, and also the one who helped farming.  Besides filming their activities as well as their daily lives, I would also show them the edited videos afterwards, and the videos would be re-edited according to their opinions.  Repeating this process from time to time, together we thought about how to tell the story, and from then on not only could the documentary arouse memories, but the villagers could see from the video how one another behaved, perceived what they might not have expressed before, and were encouraged to think about the situations of one another.

It is through this process that the filmed would gain a consciousness of “self in front of the camera,” which Mr. Ogawa called “performance”.  In the beginning, the villagers were sensitive to the camera, distrustful to it and unwilling to be filmed. Gradually, they started taking postures, consciously maintaining a coherent image of themselves throughout the shoots.  Then, as they understood further what the camera was for as well as the aim of the filming, thus trusting the cameraman, they showed their genuine emotion and their relationships with the cameraman, and finally they started “performing”.  They would tell me to “Film this and that”, asked whether to “Film this or not?”; then it was “Don’t film this and that”, “You even filmed this?”, and in the end it turned into “Have you eaten?”, “Sleep early!”, “Oh, tiring work, thank you”, “Let’s go show the film together!” and “Better add some protest clips!”... Knowing that the shootings were meant to record events and their own feelings, and that the videos were to be shown in public, the villagers gained a consciousness of the relationship between one’s self and public (about the express rail, demolishing and relocation) events, thus establishing a “new self”. Throughout this process, whereas the filmer was in control of the resources for filming and exhibition in the very beginning, it was those being filmed who gradually gained the power to the image throughout the shooting and editing process.  Whenever there was a screening, the villagers and I would participate also in the post-screening discussions, whereas the audience as well were encouraged to respond, from which the villagers could know more about the viewpoints, questions, misunderstandings, and concerns of the public.  In short, those being filmed as well as those who watched become more than objects under the lens or passive recipients.  Screenings become only the starting point from which all can participate through mutual discussions.

In Hong Kong, it’s getting harder and harder for the oppressed to express their own opinions, and the language of anti-oppression is getting less available too.  Being together with the villagers is to foster a mutual understanding and cooperation.  In face of the oppression from those in power, ordinary people actually possess their own life wisdom and ways of subversion.  Alternative systems of understanding follows alternative experiences.  Having been through a series of incidents, they begin to learn many things that can be easily understood but were never thought of before, for example that “the police may not necessarily be the good guys,” and “the mainstream media may not always report the truth.”  I myself, being among them, can also learn how to let the good things be disseminated, especially in this era, when even such basic values as “caring for others” are gradually waning in our culture. “The good” is, after all, the set of living values being worked out as we live together.  Documentary can have its role in this particular process, as we observe and express ourselves to one another in front of the camera.  This is something developed out of a mutual respect and in a relationship established when we live together.  We learn from, influence one another, as a kind of spiritual practice.

What is all this for?  This is meant to save ourselves.  To live with dignity, together we shall go through plights, protests, reflection and struggles, learning from, accepting and adapting to one another in the process.  While discussing the plan of the new village, arguments abound.  I remember one villager saying “democracy and freedom means to participate, but not to wait for others to solve the problems.  Besides voicing one’s opinions and expressing disagreement, we have to think up a solution together.  This, in turn, means that we are not just thinking for our own selves, but also for the collective. ‘Follow the masses’ is simply not enough for solving problems. When there are no ‘masses’, it’s time we have to think together.” The freedom of living together has more possibilities and variations than that of a personal life.  It’s the case in social life, and it’s also the case in artistic creation in the society.

Wishing to happily, seriously and equally live with others, and to search for the freedom of being together, are perhaps my expectation for making a documentary, which is also the most important thing Mr. Ogawa and his teammates have taught me.

* All three episodes of the documentary Raging Land (Cinematography & Editing: Benny Chan, Produced by: v-artivist, Supporting Group of Choi Yuen Village) will be screened in HKIndieFF Part 2. Details will be announced at www.hkindieff.hk