University of Salford Manchester

Visible Secrets

Dr Andrew Willis, School of Arts and Media has undertaken research focused on innovation in the development of film culture:
  • Re-examining the boundaries of what constitutes a ‘Chinese’ cinema, changing perceptions of the Hong Kong film industry and in particular, the place of women in the Hong Kong film industry;
  • Developing new ways of public engagement in the specific context of film curation;
  • Creating cultural trade and exchange channels between the UK and Hong Kong; in partnership with cinema audiences, directors, the independent cinema sector across the UK and the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office (HKETO).

Increasing engagement with Hong Kong’s Women Filmmakers


A founder member of the Chinese Film Forum UK and a member of the board of trustees of Cornerhouse, Andrew worked in partnership with Sarah Perks, Artistic Director, Visual Art and Film (Cornerhouse) to curate and tour this UK-first season of new films. Including a retrospective of the post-2000 films of award winning director Ann Hui, the season offered three other main strands:
  • The programme introduced new directors to UK audiences and comprised of 18 features, all previously unreleased theatrically in the UK, so prints of each had to be imported from Hong Kong especially for the season. The season offered a response to the under representation of women in the film industry, as well as to the lack of films addressing feminist issues and the fact that the representation of women on screen in Hong Kong cinema is often narrow and stereotypical.
  • Following its residency at Cornerhouse during October and early November 2009, the Visible Secrets UK tour launched at a gala screening at the Curzon Cinema, Mayfair, London. Films from Visible Secrets toured to eleven other UK venues facilitated by the Independent Cinema Office. These included: Edinburgh Filmhouse, Watershed Bristol, Broadway Nottingham, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Chichester Cinema at New Park, Derby QUAD, Eden Court Inverness, Northampton Forum Cinema, Sheffield Showroom and London Riverside Studios. The inclusion of a tour in the project was important in ensuring that audiences across the country had the opportunity to see examples of the kinds of Hong Kong cinema that rarely reach regional UK screens.
  • Visible Secrets was a successful partnership between various interested organisations with a commitment to new curatorial approaches to Hong Kong cinema and, as such, it provides a useful model for future collaboration between academic and arts-based institutions operating within the field of film exhibition. As both these sectors are increasingly working within tightening financial constraints, other collaborators for Visible Secrets were sought at an early stage including the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office (HKETO), which provided substantial financial support for the event through the Cornerhouse, whilst crucially leaving control of the programmes’ content to the curators. Other enthusiastic supporters included the Confucius Institute and the Chinese Arts Centre in Manchester.
  • The success of the collaboration suggests new ways in which academics can have an impact on wider film culture. Mark Cosgrove, Head of Programming at the Watershed Media Centre, Bristol, suggests that academics can bring “a deeper more historically and critically engaged perspective’ to such initiatives. There’s a mutual benefit in that such initiatives would result in the industry-facing side of the partnership having more academic weight – and analysis – and the academy having a better grounding in, and understanding of, the immediate issues facing the industry. The business of film culture has never fully maximized the impact that can result from a connection between the study of cinema in both institutional and aesthetic terms and film exhibition."
  • Three of the directors featured in the season (Angie Chen, Tsang Tsui Shan and Ivy Ho) visited Manchester to discuss their work and women’s place in the Hong Kong film industry with Cornerhouse audiences. Further supporting and contextualising materials for the season were made available via the Cornerhouse website and included a series of podcasts, including interviews with Chen, Tsang and Ho, online film reviews and a special interview with Ann Hui.
  • Stephen Teo, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and Author of the landmark Hong Kong Cinema: The Extra Dimensions (BFI Publishing) endorsed the season, stating that: “The programme is an excellent one and offers a good and rare opportunity for people in the UK to see work by Hong Kong women filmmakers. The films are very well chosen and they cover a comprehensive range of recent output. I congratulate the programmers for organizing the season and highly recommend it to film buffs and filmgoers in general who see film as a window on society and as a mirror of one’s soul.”  
  • Visible Secrets was the catalyst for the creation of the Chinese Film Forum UK.