Two days ago I discovered from reading the BBC News app that Richard Attenborough had passed away. As I read the article I realised that I was ignorantly only familiar with two of the films listed in the article–one where he acted as Professor John Hammond and the other he directed and filmed in India. I watched the latter film in 2011, and it had a profound impact on me before becoming a catalyst for my future projects.
In autumn 2011 during an afternoon of torrential rain, I was working on a rooftop farm in New York with another Michael. Dressed in a black bin liner I harvested Swiss chard and tomatillos and took photos of various produce with my phone. After the harvest, Michael and I went downstairs and I checked my phone only to find it dead and soaked in rainwater. I was completely soaked to the skin.
Leaving the rooftop farm building, we got on our bikes and cycled in the rain south towards Greenpoint, where I was living at the time. At the junction of McGuinness and Huron, we departed–I turned right and Michael south to Bed-Stuy, where he lived.
When I got home, I had a shower and decided to climb up to my triangular-shaped room and watch a film on my laptop. I decided to watch Gandhi, Richard Attenborough’s biographical film that depicts the life of Mohandas Gandhi, the leader of India's movement against Britain’s rule of India during the 20th century. Previously I had not read much about Gandhi–we never studied him at school in the UK, where I was born and grew up.
Captivated for 191 minutes, the film surprise me and allowed me to relate to many issues and feelings that I had felt or experienced in Hong Kong (also a country once ruled by the British). Issues such as encouraging local production, empowering different communities and intelligent ways to be autonomous were projected from my laptop that afternoon.
During the rule of India, the British government imposed a salt tax and forbade people from making their own salt–a vital ingredient in people’s daily diets. One of the many direct and well-organised actions that Gandhi pioneered was The Salt March in 1930. Over a 24-day and 390 km journey by foot, Gandhi led a march, joined by growing numbers along the way, towards the coastal village of Dandi in the state of Gujarat, to break the salt law as an act of civil disobedience.
Such acts of civil disobedience resulted in the use of physical force by the British government and soon salt marches became widespread acts that led to changing global and British attitudes towards India’s non-violent fight for independence. After The Salt March in 1930, many other Indians emphasised with India’s struggle for independence and flocked to the sea to make their own salt as an act of civil disobedience.
A short account of The Salt March is concisely and potently shown in Attenborough’s film. It was this part of the film that inspired me to make salt in Hong Kong and start a project named HK Salt. The political context in Hong Kong is very different to how it was before 1997 and indeed in India in 1930, however some parallels can be drawn, such as the Sai Wan villagers’ continuing land issues with the government and the Agricultural and Fisheries Conservation Department’s blurred jurisdiction of Sai Kung Country Park, which engulfs the Sai Wan village and coastline.
After watching Attenborough’s film I was inspired and began planning HK Salt. I bought the website from my bed on Green Street and started sketching some ideas that I would later develop in Hong Kong.
The passing of Richard Attenborough marks a point in the my life and in the HK Salt project–a point that allows me to pause and revisit his film, his other films and his commitments to the community and social injustice.
Without wanting to sound like an obituary, I would like to encourage you to watch Gandhi and India through Attenborough’s eyes if you have not done so already. I am sure the film will have a lasting impression on your life as it has done for me, and perhaps inspire new paths and destinations. It is now 12:53pm on Wednesday 27th August 2014 and I have a delivery to make to Mango King and I need pack my camping bag for another Sai Wan trip tonight.
SAI WAN SALT TRIP
DIRECTED & EDITED BY GEE CABALOU
HK SALT LAUNCH - 30/01/13
AT IMMINENT DOMAIN EXHIBITION
ASIA SOCIETY HONG KONG CENTER
TRIP 1 - 26/10/12
THE ROAD TO SAI WAN TING WRAPS TIGHTLY AROUND THE MOUNTAINS, ILLUMINATED ONLY BY THE MOON AND THE CAR'S HEADLIGHTS
NEW YORK 2011
BETWEEN MEETING URBAN FARMERS, BEEKEEPERS AND FOOD ENTREPENEURS I WATCHED GANDHI, RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH'S MASTERPIECE ONMAHATMA GANDHI