Anders Hammer interview: ‘Do Not Split’ director
After Anders Hammer received his first Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Short Subject for “Do Not Split,” he knew that the Chinese government would not be a fan of it. However, he didn’t anticipate China censoring their Oscar broadcast and not allowing the ceremony to air live in Hong Kong for the first time in 52 years. “The news of the nomination has been smaller for our team than what has happened after Beijing went out against our movie and decided to censor the whole Oscars due to this project,” Hammer tells us in our recent webchat (watch the exclusive video above). But Beijing’s reaction to his nomination has actually had a slight upside for the objective of Hammers’s film. “Ironically, it’s bringing more attention to our theme and our documentary is becoming part of the story…to try to view the developments in Hong Kong in a critical way since criticizing what is happening is getting more and more difficult.”
“Do Not Split” documents the protests that erupted in Hong Kong in 2019 and the violent clashes that occurred between protestors and the pro-Beijing police force. The protests started in reaction to an extradition law that would allow people to be extradited to mainland China. Pro-democracy residents feared it would erode the long-standing “one-country, two-systems” framework that Hong Kong has operated under since control of the area was transferred from the United Kingdom back to China in 1997 and would allow for China to crack down on pro-democracy demonstrators. Since the start of the pandemic last year, the protests have continued but on a much smaller scale and China has implemented several restrictive measures against Hong Kong including arresting several elected officials who vocally support the pro-democracy movement.
When the protests first started, Hammer happened to be in Taiwan. “When the protests broke out, I was watching the news like everyone else and I saw this big group of very young people taking on one of the most powerful nations in the world which is known to not use democratic means when they face resistance.” Curious as to what the situation on the ground was like, he hopped on a plane to Hong Kong to see for himself. As he started following and embedding with the protestors, he found that the demonstrations happening during the day had a lighter feel to them, but that would quickly change when the sun went down. “The peaceful people would walk home and then the black-clad protestors would confront the police and that played out in many different ways. Often you would have, like, a cat-and-mouse play in the streets for many hours into the night.”
Chronicling the demonstrations did leave Hammer exposed to a degree of danger, which was nothing new for him after working in Afghanistan as well as covering the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But he always found himself more concerned for the safety of the protestors. “They were having the trauma of their lives fighting for their future, risking a very long time in prison and they also saw, very often, how protestors were brutally handled by the police.” The biggest risk Hammer found himself facing was getting hit by a rubber bullet or struck by a tear gas cannister. The protestors faced the same but also were facing repercussions from the Chinese judicial system. “I was following people who were taking a big risk and really risking the rest of their lives. You also see later that many protestors have been arrested and are facing a very long time in prison.”