Do Not Split (2021)
Director: Anders Hammer
A nominee for Documentary Short Subject at the 2021 Oscars, Do Not Split from Norwegian born journalist and documentarian Anders Hammer takes place across one of year of violent and impassioned protests in Hong Kong between 2019 and 2020, illustrating the efforts of the Hong Kong people attempting to rebel against the incoming ideological rule of The Communist Party of China (CPC).
Hammer’s 35-minute documentary is filmed from the streets of Hong Kong and told in communication with those taking part in the protests. Every shot and conversation is either ongoing during violent clashes between police and protestors, or in the midst of marches, the rapid pace of the film’s editing bringing forth an illustration of the constant and unceasing tension between Hong Kong and China in advance of China being handed ownership of Hong Kong and its people following decades of transition from British rule.
Do Not Split feels like a film from the frontlines of a war. Protestors arrive to marches armed with umbrellas to protect themselves from the tear gas of the oppressive governmental forces attempting to quelle their rebellion, their defences evolving as the film progresses to include milk (that washes tear gas from the eyes more effectively than water) and subsequently gas masks. As protestors speak eloquently of their struggle to maintain their rights to vote in fair elections, live within a free market and to speak freely, the brutality of the riot police, their weapons and their tanks hits like a thud time and time again. As young men are shown being wrestled to the floor by heavily protected forces of authority, or dragged out of sight with their hands behind their backs, Do Not Split leaves you asking if anyone will ever see these people again; the invisible hand of a ruling culture far removed from the one it’s indoctrinating simply disappearing anyone who looks like a threat to its ideology.
Hammer’s work is not without brief tangential moments, such as an overly indulgent encounter with a young woman at the forefront of the political tension, but in documenting a significant cultural and ideological war in a first world nation – the idea of which is never far from view as the towering neon skyscrapers provide an almost Blockbuster-like backdrop – the documentarian has captured a truth that is not only eye-opening to the actualities of Hong Kong’s fragile future, but seems more deeply rooted to the realities of our seemingly evermore restricted lives halfway across the world.
Do Not Split is, in many ways, a warning shot; a “this could be you sooner than you think”. It’s part “how to” guide in how to best fight oppressive forces, part inspiration for mobilisation in support of a life-altering cause, and part exposé on the heavy hand of CPC and the increasing desperation of the Hong Kong people. Much of this Documentary short is violent and rapid, but it’s the truth it speaks across years, pandemics and in the face of an ever-approaching destiny, that makes it such an unmissable short film; a deserved Oscar nominee.