Tammy Cheung and Augustine Lam Interview

Robert- Thank you for talking to me today, it’s a real pleasure. I got to catch a lot of your other items before today’s interview and it was very eye-opening, especially Rice Distribution was many years ago and so was speaking out

Q- what entices you to film these subjects, what makes you decide you want to cover these topics, as more of a fictional film person it is interesting to see and find out what makes you pick these subjects to film

Tammy-  in terms of picking the subjects I don’t have very clear directions, I picked Rice Distribution, as I watched the news about the events, it is a tradition, in Hong Kong they do it every summer for a couple of months, on the news I saw people lining for a long time under the sun, and sometimes it was raining, not that it was the first time I had noticed that but I had started to make documentaries and I thought that is very strange and I was curious so I decided that we should go and try and see if we could film it and that was how we started it  I didn’t have a very clear plan.

Robert- And linking into Rice distribution Augustine

Q- How was it to get the film shot, as you have only got one take to get the footage that you need, you cant reshoot, you basically have one go, and you only had one camera to film and there was a huge crowd, so how do you manage to cope with that and get the shots that you need to construct this film

Augustine- I don’t know, as I was a photojournalist before my experience helped, I can sort of tell what is going on and what is going to happen next, we stayed there for quite a few hours actually, we spent around 13 hours there so I knew where the people were going and what they were going to do next so we kind of predict what the next move will be

Q- like how crazy was it when you saw the scene of the old people pushing in the barriers was it really as eye-opening to see how aggressive they were and how chaotic it became, people trying to jump the line and if you leave to go to the toilet and you are not identified by others you would be put to the back of the queue

Tammy- my answer is yes and no. Yes it is very chaotic but the no part is that we have seen this, you have to understand Hong Kong people are refugees, my mother was a refugee she took me to Hong Kong when I was like 3 years old, so it is a city of refugees, you know the experience of refugees we all have to scramble to get something in order to live to struggle, so at that event they actually didnt have to push people, they didn’t have to be so anxious as the organisers said they had enough for everyone but the problem is they don’t trust anything according to their experience most people there number one over 60 and number two were women and women in a society like this are worthless totally worthless you know what I mean you’re old you’re poor you’re a woman  no one pays attention to you they might give you something from time to time like a bag of rice I have to tell you this a lot of the people there they actually go to most of the points to get this rice or bags, you saw the shot when they were asking the policeman which bus should I take in order to go to the other places and some are far far away to go there and they actually allot of them that you see they cant really carry the bag is very heavy yeah and actually is it a year later or two years someone got killed, two years later there was a same kind of activity not at the same place a woman just got killed because I guess she was trying to run for a bag you know and then should fell so she got killed and the organisers said she is not joining the right distribution yes she was she was clearly she was and so there was an inquiry and legislative council members like MP and one of them knew me and asked me to give him part of the film I did and it was very useful because at first people were saying oh this is a good activities because the people they have they don’t have a social life so they can go with friends and consider this is like entertainment or social life is not the right supposed to be blessed so bring some good fortune come on it’s not true people came when there to get the rice because they need it OK because there’s no pension most mostly without a pension and they let’s see if I’m 75 years old I have maybe some problem with my health and I have a bit of money left I don’t know how long it will last so they try to be very careful and they would try to get as much free rice as possible, they go to every point in the city and some are really far away and it is impossible to carry those things, the organisers are very patronising remember this man he was talking to two guys the two guys actually the police, one was the police chief speaking to  the organiser was he was doing something like protecting good things saying that mentality because these poor people we give them some rice to make them happy because we have money so its okay I will be calm now.

Robert – no it’s fine it’s good to get an honest opinion on it, when I watched Speaking Up ,

Tammy – you saw that really, thank you but can I ask you why my thinking is you don’t get anyone who wants to watch this as they say this is nothing to do with me here. I just think that people don’t really know what is going on, alot of the context is for the Hong Kong audience

Robert- I think for me personally I love to learn about other cultures and I think it is very important and I love foreign cinema and for me I was fascinated as it was something completely foreign to me, we don’t have anything like that in this country, we would be lucky to give away a free jam piece in this country.

Tammy- people were quite optimistic at that time because we thought that China is going to take a lot of things back from us but not at this speed we had, one of the reasons is how some Hong Kong people react to what happened in the last 2 years, so the fact that we are here we didn’t plan this we didn’t want to come, the UK is a very nice place but we didn’t plan to come at all, we were doing a lot of things in Hong Kong, and I spent a lot of time making all those films before 2000 and then I started to teach and started to organise a film festival so we still have a bit of hope that there would be more people paying more attention to what is going on, to make films about Hong Kong so we were optimistic in a way but maybe we where naïve, so it was a shock that it all changed like overnight and we had to leave, we spent like 4 months to pack everything, but I have a mum and she is 93 and just I didn’t think I would leave so for us it was a big shock.

Augustine- I never believed that the Chinese government, in 1997 they had a promise that we would have 50 years of One country two systems unchanged, I didn’t believe it that much, but I didn’t expect the change to come so fast, I don’t think it was planned a lot of things happened at the same time and became like a spiral and it couldn’t be controlled.

Tammy- I understand that the Chinese government has been doing this in other places like in Tibet and they sent a lot of Hun people to dilute the native people, and this is what they have been doing to Hong Kong, Hong Kong has allowed a lot of Chinese people to stay in Hong Kong so the society has actually changed quite a bit in the last 20 years. Since around 2014 a lot of people have noticed the dilution of Hong Kong and the people started to have this sentiment against the people from mainland China and so the anger just grow bigger and bigger, that is why in 2019 there was this big movement mainly motivated by the generation to act and request the independence of Hong Kong, but it was impossible, we knew that so the movement accelerated the change the fall of Hong Kong.

Robert- It is very sad to see people who made their names in Hong Kong now making Chinese propaganda films for the Chinese government, in my opinion

Tammy- You need to remember that Hong Kong is a completely commercial city most people think that making money is the most important goal in life so for some people they don’t care they just want to make a lot of money they don’t care, also in our culture we have this idea that we have entertainment people, business people, they don’t really care, we have the idea that they don’t have integrity really, in our tradition we have a saying that if you are an actor or are in the entertainment business you don’t have very high morals that is the traditional idea we look down on actors, but they are very rich.

Q- Its interesting you (Augustine) were a photographer before you went into film making, I feel documentaries take like pictures in time they live on forever so how do you feel that these films have captured moments in time, but will live on for hopefully many more years?

Tammy- I didn’t really think about that much my idea at that time was first of all Hong Kong people don’t care very much about history, we don’t have a history and we don’t care and people don’t read history books on history so my idea at this time was to capture what was going on at the time and hope it will last for maybe 20 years I didn’t think of another generation , I didn’t think that far.

Augustine- I didn’t think about it either

Tammy- I am going to go back to the fact that we are refugees, we don’t have a very long view of life, I guess what we care about is today and tomorrow, can I make a living , today Hong Kong is rich now since the 1980s so even although people are rich they still have the same kind of mentality , they don’t really think to much about the future, the future is like can I buy a bigger house or can my children make a good living that is as far as they go we don’t have a strong sense of society because we are really in a very peculiar position, we have a very long history as Chinese person at least 2000 years and either way I am proud as I know we have really wonderful stuff like literature but who cares today, nobody cares, and so it is a very old civilisation but very corrupt and had a lot of problems and we don’t know what the future is like we are not optimistic.

Q- what enticed both of you into documentary film making?

Tammy- I went to a film school in Canada, and in film school they train you to do lots of different things, and I took a course an introductory to documentary’s so I watched a lot of films, one film by an American film maker Frederick Wiseman called High School and it was amazing, it was very strange looking and when I went back to Hong Kong I didn’t really think about it that much  I went to join the commercial film industry for a very short time for less than a year, I didn’t like it, so after a while I thought maybe I can try documentaries as it was cheap, it doesn’t cost much and I made the first one about a couple of Indian woman in Hong Kong and I really enjoyed it, it was fun, I had no idea what would happen next compare to fiction films where you have a script and you can tell people what to do, in a documentary you cant really do that, so I thought wow this is so exciting and then I thought maybe I could do it , maybe I could make a living from doing it, it was difficuilt, but the I met Augustine he was a reporter and I asked him if he wanted to make a film together, so we did, the first film we made together was Secondary School and we thought maybe no one wants to see it, but it didn’t matter as I was working in a bank and he also had a good job so we said it doesn’t matter, then we made Rice Distribution within about 6 months, and Rice Distribution got awards, it got 2 awards and we got cash awards, which we used to buy a camera, the Secondary School started to get good reviews and we were like, oh really we can make films now, that is how we started.  All my friends were saying why are you giving up your job you are working in the bank making good money, then my boss was saying I am leaving so you can take my position next year. Sorry I was talking so much, when I work I don’t talk at all. We try to be invisible so things happen naturally. Our new film is nearly finished, it is a very different experience, we went to Poland and the Ukraine, the film is about Ukrainian refugees, it is a completely different experience, we became friends with some of them.

Q- How was it going to film in the Ukraine for both of you it is a very depressing and sad situation?

Tammy- I decided to go when I heard the news of the war, we had only arrived in London 20 days earlier, so we didn’t have furniture we didn’t have anything so we thought we should perhaps go abit later when we are ready.  I knew before we went I would have a very different experience and I would have to face a lot of things I havn’t faced before but since I am not young I should allow myself this chance to become more mature, because I have no experience of war and I was completely different from what I had done before of course, but as I have said my mum was a refugee, and my mum had experienced 2 wars , the Japanese occupation of Shanghai and the Civil war between Kuomintang and the Republic of China, so I thought that as she had had this kind of experience I should try to and perhaps this would help me to understand her a little bit better, she is a very happy person and healthy and happy and anyway the idea is that I have this experience, and after spending 4 months there I think I learned a little bit about history, a little bit about Europe a bit about human nature and for me personally I think it was a great experience.  If we had still been in Hong Kong we would not have gone there, so coming to the UK it has given me this opportunity to really open up our eyes.  We are hoping to go back, the whole thing made me more aware of history more aware of the history not only of Russia, Poland and the Ukraine and different parts of Europe but for also the west, since the west is so important, in the last 500 years the west has been the pivotal point of the world, so I think it is a very good education for me. And again, in this situation you will see some very wonderful people, so brave so selfless, you will also see some people who are not good, who are trying to make money out of the situation it’s sad, but it is human nature.

Augustine- I had experience in Asia reporting on riots facing teargas before but not as serious. We had been invited to the front, but we couldn’t make it, we did go to some of the places that had been destroyed.

Tammy- We met a soldier from Georgia who was quite famous, he just wanted to go and help, and I heard a couple of months ago he had been killed. It is a very different world. I have kept in contact with some of the volunteers, and I have heard some of the horror stories of what is happening out there, Humans can be very bad. if you can read about the cultural revolution in China, you should read it, we should understand it even if it makes you feel bad, China is still very powerful still, a lot of people have come to the UK to live and to study, people who have gone through the cultural revolution would have a completely different mentality.

Robert- thank you again for taking the time to speak to me it has been a great privilege and honour.

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