Hong Kong transformed in a year.

Starting in June 2019, the city convulsed with protests over a controversial extradition bill. That expanded into a pro-democracy movement that sought to push back against China’s efforts to further erode the city-state’s already tenuous autonomy, and the freedoms that went with it.

By June 2020, the power of those uprisings brought China’s full might down on Hong Kong, as Beijing implemented a draconian national security law that stifled dissent — or anything that looked even remotely like it in the eyes of the Chinese Communist Party.

Do Not Split, an Oscar-nominated short documentary by filmmaker Anders Hammer, charts some of Hong Kong’s most tumultuous months of the pro-democracy uprising and its troubling, unclear end in the face of China’s crackdown. The story is told by the protesters and activists on the front lines, the young people who are trying to protect the freedoms of Hong Kong — freedoms that were supposed to be guaranteed until 2047 under the “one country, two systems” arrangement China agreed to when it took back control of Hong Kong from Britain in 1997 — for as long as they can.

Even it’s a battle they know they are losing.

“It was very difficult to understand how this would work. How could this small group of young people fight China?” journalist and filmmaker Anders Hammer, the director of Do Not Split, told me. “At the same time, it was really something unique to watch how they work together. You could really sense that solidarity among the protesters, and a great deal of sacrifice and this communion feeling in the street.”

Do Not Split follows demonstrators to the edges of the protests: where they regrouped to recover from tear gas, where they camped out in a field after a clash with police at the City University of Hong Kong in November 2019.

The film also reveals just how explosive these protests became; frame after frame shows the escalation, from protesters shielding themselves with umbrellas from assaults of tear gas to protesters flinging firebombs at lines of police. (The full documentary is now available from Field of Vision.)