Despite this, Cheung says she ended up studying film by accident. She had initially planned to study communications in Central Canada, with the thought of becoming a journalist. But she relocated to Montreal after celebrating Christmas with a friend there. In Montreal, she studied English literature for a semester before switching to film studies at the University of Concordia, because her friends “seemed to be having fun” at Concordia’s film school.
“If not for my 10 years’ stay [in Canada], I wouldn’t be making documentaries now,” Cheung says.
After a year at film school, Cheung dropped out for six years before going back to complete her studies. During this time she was active in the Chinese community and began organising film festivals for Chinese communities in Canada.
“I was thinking, why not play some movies in conjunction with the Lunar New Year?” Her first film festival was so successful it planted the idea that she should produce her own films, in which she could tell her own stories.
Although she has been a filmmaker for more than 10 years and is composed and organised when it comes to producing documentaries, Cheung still gets very nervous when it comes to the moment of screening.
The audience response means a lot to her and she makes it a point to be present for her documentary screenings to observe how they react. “I enjoy seeing the way audiences react to my films, it is very satisfying,” says Cheung. “I feel that I am not making [documentaries] for nothing.”
It is the resonance with the audience that encourages her to persist in her work and overcome obstacles and difficulties, such as tight budgets and the lack of manpower.
Funding is always a problem. The money she makes from screening and distributing her documentaries is insufficient to cover the costs of production. There are limited venues in Hong Kong for public movie screenings, especially ones that can cater to a wide audience.
Cheung says she is heavily in debt and has nearly exhausted her savings. Distribution to educational institutions and companies is one of her company’s main sources of income.
Worse, she says the business environment for documentaries is deteriorating. “Hong Kong puts no emphasis on the arts. Nowadays, it is becoming more evident and serious,” says Cheung. “Society is becoming more and more utilitarian, [and there is] less and less freedom.”