Human Rights Documentary Film Festival 2019: A Worldwide View on Civil Disobedience

The 9th Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, named I Xpress, was held from September 27th to October 4th by Amnesty International Hong Kong. Topics this year range from sex education, creative freedom, gender equality to student activism, dictatorship, extremism, and apartheid. All of these topics serve to inspire the audience with the theme of human rights.

It witnessed over 80% attendance in the past few years, and throughout this summer of discontent, it serves as a companion to Hongkongers in the fact of a worldwide cause of equality, democracy and liberty. 

The festival was held at Hong Kong Arts Centre in Wan Chai.

Student activism: Our Youth in Taiwan (我們的青春,在台灣)

It is primarily a film about the youth and their struggles, rather than politics.”

– Director, Fu Yue, winner of Best Documentary, Golden Horse Awards 2018

This documentary records the 6-year experience of two student leaders in Taiwan: Chen Wei-ting, a Taiwanese leader in the Sunflower Movement; and Cai Bo-yi, a China-born activist in Taiwan’s bottom-up politics. The purpose of this documentary, said the director, is to explore the possibility for youths across the strait to talk with each other, putting aside differences in identity.

As young political celebrities, both activists have had dramatic lives. Chen later faced a scandal regarding past incidents of sexual harassment and withdrew from the race for the Miaoli legislature, while Cai ran for president of the student council at Tamkang University only to be targeted because of her Chinese background—despite her past social movement participation—, ultimately resulting in her election defeat. 

The massive political movement also raised question marks in young minds: while occupying the legislature during the Sunflower Movement, the group of student leaders became structured similarly to the closed-door government that they were against. ‘Democracy is terrible,’ Chen admitted when thousands of Taiwanese required him to disclose their ‘top-down’ decisions. Students then started to be aware of the dilemma that the government faced in terms of democracy.

Hence, the director doesn’t aim to discuss political solutions but focuses on the youth engagement in social movement, and how to return to normal life when the luminous experience fades away.

Apartheid: The State Against Mandela and the Others (與曼德拉同行)

But, My Lord, if it needs to be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

— Nelson Mandela, the conclusion of his speech during the trial in 1963
The nine defendants in the Rivonia trial with Mandela in the center.
Photo: The press kit of The State Against Mandela and the Others.

This uplifting documentary animates the 256-hour long Rivonia trial of Nelson Mandela and his 9 fellow defendants in 1963 with newsreels and audio recordings. The film depicts back and forth the people on trial and their families, listening to the recording and reflecting on past memories. 

The trial follows the post-War South African history, when the white minority rulers dominated the blacks and sparked civil disobedience. Mandela and his comrades were accused of plotting treasonous acts of sabotage, violence, and destruction to life imprisonment. 

From different angles, the film depicted the long-lasting pursuit of democracy in South Africa, with the belief of freedom, human rights, love, and responsibility.

Signpost showing the poster of The State Against Mandela and the Others.

Extremism: Exit (割席之後) 

I am more okay with my past now, because I have met so many people with similar stories and respect. A lot of people are using their past to do good, and it makes me feel like a part of a community.”

— Director, Karen Winther, former anti-racist Blitz group and neo-Nazi group member

In the screening in Asia, the director exposed herself and portrayed former extremists from Denmark, Germany, the USA, and France, including right-wing extremists, left-wing extremists and Armed Islamic Group members. At some point in their lives, they decided that hatred should not rule them and struggled to exit their camp. 

Today, some of them still do not dare to meet others’ gazes; some still live in secret addresses due to the dangerous past. Some even experience threats and violence from their former groups. Hopefully, they also devote themselves to the anti-hatred movement and help more people exit extremism and reconcile with themselves.

Angela, a former extremist who then devotes her life to an anti-extremism career.
Photo: The press kit of Exit

The key questions that the director puts up here are: how can we limit the use of extreme violence within the confines of morality? Looking back at all the people they have harmed, because of race, ethnicity or religion, what can we do to pay for them and heal the wound? In the final analysis, what lead to violence from both sides in the past?

Dictatorship: The Silence of Others (沉默共犯)

Perhaps we have all collaborated in the silence.”

— Maria Martin, whose mother died in the bloody Spanish Civil War when she was six
Maria makes a regular pilgrimage to put flowers on the side of the highway where
her mother’s naked body was thrown in a ditch.
Photo: The press kit of the Silence of Others

After four decades of dictatorship under General Franco in Spain, the new government implemented the “The Pact of Forgetting” in 1975 and the “Amnesty Law” in 1977, granting freedom to political prisoners and impunity to their persecutors. They wished to reconcile with victims through coercive “forgetting”, but silence turned out to be the source of their suffering. 

In 2013, survivors and the families of the victims broke the silence and filed a groundbreaking international lawsuit in Argentina in 2013, overcame their collective forgetting and fought for justice. In recent years, organizations in Spain also began to contact the families of victims and discovered the mass graves of the slaughtered in 1936, hoping to find the remains of the victims. ‘The distance between silence and evil, equals to the distance with dictatorship,’ said the director.

For more details of the upcoming HRDFF, please follow their Facebook page for more updates!

Poster of The 9th Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, I Xpress, promoted alongside other films.

What can Hong Kong learn from other countries?

The four topics mentioned above are indeed related to today’s Hong Kong. While the protest entering the 17th week ahead of National Day holidays, the extreme force used by the police triggered a wider scope of student participation. Nobody can hide behind silence and peace, and are forced to face a more polarized society with wounds that may take years to heal. The dialogue with the Chief Executive last week did not reach the expected mutual understanding. Meanwhile, violence became the only way to voice out the grievances.

The first anti-extradition protest on June 9th 2019. The movement has lasted for 4 months as of now.

Fu Yue, the director of Our Youth in Taiwan, said that the most important camp is not the supporters or opponents, but those who are deciding to enter or avoid a certain camp, or say the ‘Moderate Groups’. ‘Many people like me,’ said Fu, ‘don’t have an undestroyable faith, but are continuously struggling with the choices’. The yellow and blue ribbons are all trying to cooperate with this group. However, they may project the wrong expectations on others, person-to-person, country-to-country. 

Cai Bo-yi won’t achieve her political goals in Taiwan as a Chinese, as long as the deadlock between Taiwan and China exists. The victims of General Franco’s dictatorship will only find justice when the government takes a moderate position. The black people in South Africa waited over 30 years for a liberated country. 

Those who dedicate their lives to the sake of liberty for all need insightful courage and proper time. Those who take up the sword, shall die by the sword.

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