epa05239173 A Hong Kong community screening takes place at public space by the entrance to the Hong Kong Legislative Council, show the independent movie 'Ten Years' which depicts a dystopian Hong Kong ten years from now, when the city is predicted to be in the strong grip of an authoritarian regime, Hong Kong, China, 01 April 2016. The mainstream theaters in Hong Kong have agreed not to screen the movie, so it is being screened with the help of diesel generator-powered projectors at various outdoor locations across the city. EPA/ALEX HOFFORD
'Ten Years' was screened for free at more than 40 locations across Hong Kong on Friday © EPA

A cult film imagining a bleak future for Hong Kong has been thrust into the local limelight even as it is suppressed in China, after winning best picture at the city’s film awards.

A five-part movie directed by five Hong Kong filmmakers, Ten Years sees a city transformed by encroaching mainland dominance. One contribution depicts a city in which Mandarin has replaced Cantonese as the main language. In another, an elderly pro-democracy activist sets herself on fire outside the consular offices of the UK, the former colonial power.

“Thank you for having the courage to give this award to us,” said Andrew Choi, one of the film’s producers — a sentiment echoed by Derek Yee, chairman of the awards association, who quoted Franklin D Roosevelt as saying: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

The film is the latest focal point of local resentment towards the mainland. Tensions, which have been simmering since late 2014 when tens of thousands of pro-democracy activists occupied key parts of the city, have deteriorated further in recent months following the disappearances of five Hong Kong booksellers.

On the sidelines of China’s annual parliamentary meeting in Beijing last month, Hong Kong delegates warned that the territory was locked on a collision course with its motherland.

An independent production with a budget of just HK$500,000 ($65,000), Ten Years became a local box office hit, grossing more than HK$6m in a few short weeks despite receiving only a limited release and vanishing from cinema screens at the height of its popularity earlier this year. The sudden drop in screenings sparked accusations that it was being suppressed for political reasons.

On Friday tens of thousands of Hong Kong citizens flocked to free screenings of the film, many open-air, at more than 40 locations across the city.

Among the crowds was 27-year-old Geoff Cheng. He believes the film speaks to real fear and discontent in the Chinese territory.

“There are some friends of mine who are already preparing for the worst-case scenarios that might happen after 2047,” he said, referring to the date when the city’s 50-year “one country, two systems” framework of semi-autonomy is set to come to an end and Hong Kong will become fully incorporated into mainland China.

However, not everyone in the Hong Kong film business, which is largely funded by Chinese investors, welcomed the provocative drama.

“Politics has hijacked professionalism,” said Peter Lam, a local entertainment magnate.

Meanwhile, the film has received barely any coverage in mainland media other than being dismissed as “absurd” and a “virus of the mind” in an editorial this year in Communist party tabloid the Global Times.

Sina, a leading online news outlet, omitted the best film category in its round-up of award winners. State television group CCTV did not broadcast this year’s award ceremony — a decision it made after the nominees had been revealed.

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