A new documentary by Ai Weiwei takes viewers inside the pro-democracy demonstrations waged by Hong Kong activists against mainland China last year.
The film, titled Cockroach, was shot during the peak of the protests sparked by a law proposed in February 2019 that would allow for the extradition to China of Hong Kong citizens facing criminal charges. Many feared that the controversial law would undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy under the “one country, two systems” agreement.
There’s no mistaking the filmmaker’s sympathies in the documentary, which plays like an agitprop tribute to the cockroaches, as the protesters call themselves.
“I really think I am one of them,” Ai told the Guardian. “They are heroes because they were fighting for democracy and civil society with no real hope that they would achieve their aims. They are clear, well educated, and above all sincere. They were fighting not for jobs or money but things that seem to be abstract. It is about human dignity.”
The hour-and-a-half-long film is stitched together from interviews with demonstrators, politicians, and activists, alongside protest footage, including images from the multi-day siege of Hong Kong Polytechnic University in November 2019.
Released December 18, the documentary is available to rent in the US via Alamo Draft Houses’s Alamo On Demand app—the same platform that released Ai’s previous film about life under lockdown in Wuhan, CoroNation—and globally on Vimeo on Demand.
Ai has long been a supporter of the pro-democracy movement.
“I am a Hong Konger,” he tweeted 5 years ago, at the onset of the Umbrella Revolution, as the protest movement has been called. But the artist and activist says he’s never been a leader in the fight.
“What is beautiful about Hong Kong is that their revolution is leaderless. They are resilient because they depend on self-organization, not rule from above,” he told the Guardian. “These people are unique in the world because they are standing up to China. Most people… are too worried about their jobs. Many countries don’t dare stand up to China. But these people are willing to sacrifice everything for their beliefs.”
Cockroach is Ai’s third film released this year, following Vivos, a documentary about the 2014 abduction of 43 students in Mexico that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and CoroNation.
See a trailer for the new film below.
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