Interviewed by Elle Wong, BA Journalism Falmouth University
A placard bearing martial arts star Bruce Lee’s slogan ‘Be water’ is carried by Hong Kong’s anti-government protesters, a movement whose fluid protest tactics aimed to be as formless and shapeless as water in the streets. This is the opening image of Hong Kong: The Umbrella on Fire by Catalan videojournalist Raul Gallego Abellan, a finalist in this year’s Rory Peck Trust Awards’ news category.
“It was impressive to see a leaderless movement taking on a life of its own; you saw how they evolve along the way to sustain the movement,” said Abellan. He had covered peaceful Umbrella Movement demonstrations in Hong Kong in 2014 and saw them fail; this time, Abellan saw the protesters’ strategy develop in response to security forces’ operations against them. “You can see the majority of them, though brave, are very inexperienced,” explained Abellan, whose reporting captured a process of trial and error as the protest movement grew.
Leaderless by design, protesters appeared to have support from the community at all levels, Abellan noted. “Suddenly there will be a rich businessman in a Porsche at night, picking up people from the protest frontline and driving them safely home,” he recalled. “You see all these different kinds of people forming an army of volunteers to support the protestors on the front.”
Using editing and sound, the film’s rhythm builds as Abellan portrays the tension and, eventually, the confrontation between riot police and protesters. The visual style was designed to distinguish his reporting in a crowded field.
“As an independent journalist, when you go to a place that has already grabbed all the media outlets’ attention, it’s challenging to stand out. That’s why I wanted to create something different and tell a story in full, just with visuals and the beat of the music.”