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Four performers dance in the shallows of the ocean. In the background, waves roll into shore. The sky is overcast.

As a moving image commission project for young and emerging Hong Kong filmmakers, Poetry on Film is motivated by the belief that poetry possesses an inherent cinematic quality. Its rhythmic cadence, vivid imagery, and emotional depth offer a rich tapestry for filmmakers to weave their visual narratives.

A man sits inside a passenger ferry. The Hong Kong skyline is visible through the windows behind him.

Still from Lee Wai Shing’s Afar. Commissioned by M+, 2023

Poetry on Film follows in the footsteps of the M+ short-film commission project Hong Kong as Mise-en-Scène (2023), which explores the city’s vibrant cultural landscape through moving image works. The idea for Poetry on Film was inspired by Ann Hui’s Elegies (2023), a documentary that looks at Hong Kong through the works of some of the city’s most innovative poets.

A monochrome image of a sparrow perched on the ledge of a wooden log.

Still from Jolene Mok’s an inimitable place called home. Commissioned by M+, 2023

To realise the project, M+ invited four filmmakers to use their unique and experimental approaches to each produce a short film that creatively reimagines a contemporary Chinese-language work by a Hong Kong poet. Each poem serves as the artist’s source material, forming a creative springboard from which they extrapolate their film’s narrative, aesthetics, structure, and mood. By empowering young filmmakers to select poems that resonate with them personally, Poetry on Film aims to foster a deep connection between the artist, the text, and the audience. The project also encourages viewers to reflect on universal human experiences that connect us all.

Still frame from an animated short film: A female figure cradles a small human-like figure resembling a matchstick, which is engulfed in flames.

Still from STEP C’s Snails in a Telephone Booth. Commissioned by M+, 2023

Poetry on Film features the works of STEP C., Chu Hoi Ying, Lee Wai Shing, and Jolene Mok. Summoning the melancholy of poet Dr Eric Lui’s A Snail in a Phone Box (2006), animator STEP C. creates a surreal film that captures a sense of urban loneliness and longing. Meanwhile, Chu collaborated with young dancers and choreographers to explore prolific Hong Kong poet Yam Gong’s Daily Life (1987), which describes the nightmarish experience of falling seriously ill. Mok selected Hong Fu’s Suppose a Few Birds Fly By (1990)—a spare, five-line text that describes a moment of tranquillity-and adapted it into a serene black­-and-white 16mm film that contrasts the movements of Hong Kong’s sparrows with different forms of local transport. Inspired by Huang Canran’s poem So Close (2007), Lee’s nostalgic and wistful work features his own family members in a heartwarming tale of a son visiting his mother in North Point.

Image at top: Still from Chu Hoi Ying’s Daily Life. Commissioned by M+, 2023

Ulanda Blair is Curator, Moving Image at M+. Savannah Shiu is Assistant Curator at M+.

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