News and updates about SKIN

A long-haul flight seems as good a place as any to update one’s blog. So here I am, thousands of feet in the air between Hong Kong and London, having just screened SKIN at the Agnes b. Cinema in the Arts Centre and given a series of talks to a wide range of students as part of the AFI 20/20 programme (

The eminent theatre director, Tim Albery, whom I assisted early in my (aborted) opera career, apparently once said to a mutual acquaintance, ‘Let’s face it, Caroline. We’ll never be as international as Tony Fabian.’ His words are often quoted as a family joke – but the marvelous Mr. Albery, a Brit living in Canada, has since worked at every major opera house on the planet; I reckon he could give me a run for my international money.

Cultural diplomacy is the mantra of the AFI 20/20 filmmaker – and I must say, the programme is a hotbed of artistic, social and intellectual exchange.  My first 20/20 tour was to Hawaii last November, where SKIN was shown in the Doris Duke Theatre at the Honolulu Academy of Arts – a stunning museum filled with international treasures, from ancient to modern. I also gave a lecture at the Film Department of the University of Hawaii (where I’d naturally assumed the main subject would be surfing) and learned about Hawaii’s rich, unresolved colonial history. It’s not all aloha, crashing waves and hula skirts – there is still a lot of resentment toward the American inhabitants (‘haoles’) and a growing sense of nationalism among the descendants of the earlier, Polynesian settlers. The themes of SKIN therefore had great resonance for this multi-ethnic society.

But I am deviating from the real business of the day – my week in Hong Kong and Macau. I had last spent time in Hong Kong 23 years ago when, as a student, I traveled from Sydney to Beijing via the Far East’s great harbour city. The forty-eight-hour train ride from Hong Kong to the Chinese capital was an experience I’ll never forget – sharing a six-bunk sleeper with a various mainland Chinese families, with whom I could only communicate by sign language. Being rather stupid, I couldn’t figure out how to find (or pay for) food – most people had brought their own and there was no restaurant car. My fellow travelers offered to share their delicacies with me, but I was too shy and, frankly, uncertain of the contents, to accept – so I literally didn’t eat for two days. (I could do with more of that kind of stupidity now, to make up for too many days of Dim Sum.)

Hong Kong is a very different place today – but not as different as one might expect post hand-over. The modus operandi appears be a kind of double-think: the strict controls over freedom of speech and information that prevail in mainland China simply do not apply to Hong Kong or its sister island, the former Portuguese colony, Macau. Accompanying me on this trip was Siatta Scott Johnson, a Liberian journalist and co-director of the brilliant documentary, Iron Ladies of Liberia, about Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – Africa’s first woman president. Our talks were completely open and free, as though we were speaking in the most liberal democracy, and the students were perfectly forthright about human rights issues. The real change, of course, is not so much with Hong Kong as it is with the Chinese government which clearly decided some time ago that encouraging free trade was the best way forward, even in a one-party state. Nevertheless, Hong Kong still feels very different from the big mainland cities of Beijing and Shanghai; it is a great deal more cosmopolitan, open-minded and international. And the British colonial legacy is everywhere – from the Victorian tiles in the grand buildings of the University of Hong Kong, to the pubs and bars serving fish and chips, and the large number of British expats.

Hong Kong is still a ‘one industry town’ – finance. The biggest surprise for me was that, although the local papers still contain a fair amount of doom-laden, world-recession news, the atmosphere in the shops, restaurants and dinner parties is still remarkably buoyant. There is an awful lot of money here. And cinema attendance is booming. Early on in our visit we met Soo Wei Shaw, grand-daughter of the 102 year old legend, Sir Run Run Shaw (among many other things, owner of the impressive new Shaw Studios). Soo Wei is Executive Director of the Hong Kong Film Festival, which has seen a 34% increase in ticket sales this year. And overall, box-office numbers are up. It seems that during the recession, people travel less, and go to the cinema more… Not being the owner of an airline or a hotel, I am selfishly pleased about this.

We met extraordinary people in Hong Kong and Macau – including Ambassadors from South Africa (the delightful Tembi Tambo) and Australia (the redoubtable Les Luck), and of course staff from the US Consulate, who were our hard-working and gracious hosts (Anthony Hutchinson, Dale Kreisher and Adeline Fung). I was enormously impressed by the sophistication of the students we addressed, who understood SKIN on every level. Having been told that ‘Chinese people are racist and won’t like your film,’ I was gratified to find exactly the same response in Hong Kong as I’d found in Toronto, Rio, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Dubai, etc. Clearly – the film speaks with the same voice to people from every culture around the world. Its particularity and specificity makes it an authentic human experience – in other words, a truly universal story.

Comments(4)Add Comment
Anthony Fabian
April 15, 2009

Hi Cindy

That's great! Let me know when you've written it - I'd love to have a look.



April 15, 2009

I'm a student from Macao who had watched the film and attended the meeting with you and Johnson.
Now I'm writing an artical about some ideas about the nature of discrimination I've got from your movie.
Best wishes!

Anthony Fabian
April 12, 2009

Dear Sheila

Your patience may soon be rewarded - please see next blog entry, Lucky Star!

Warm regards


Sheila McLendon
April 02, 2009

I would love to see this movie (I have been waiting ever since I heard that it was in production)- will this ever go "mainstream" or how can we get a showing in Tulsa Oklahoma?


Sheila McLendon

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