We live in an age of activism. Protest is regularly in the news. Despite the handful of activists that have become globally recognised, movements are by nature not about individuals, and personal experiences can get lost in the overall story. Dear Future Children is a new documentary that personalises this age of activism through the lives of three activists – all women, all in their early 20s, and all involved in struggles infinitely bigger than they are.
First up we meet Rayen, a flame-haired resistor of President Piñera in Chile. We see her putting on her breathing mask for the teargas, her goggles and helmet. The camera follows her into the crowd, within stinging distance of the police response. “You can’t ignore young people and the working class” she says of the governmment’s dismissal of their calls for a new constitution. “That will backfire.”
Activist number two is Hilda Flavia Nakabuye, student striker from Uganda. She is pulling plastic out of a river, pleading with local people to care for it and protect it for future generations, taking a lonely stand beside the traffic with her protest sign. She speaks about the damage that climate change has done to her family and her village already.
And finally, Pepper is involved in pro-democracy action in Hong Kong. We don’t see her face. Pepper is presumably not her real name. She hides her role as an organiser from her friends, leading a double life.
The film jumps between these three characters, unobtrusively following them, letting them tell their story. There is no narration, no backstory. It lets them talk, and watches them in action.
As the film unfolds, we get more of a sense of the price these women are paying for their stand. They all risk arrest or police brutality. They deal with the worries of friends and family. Their stories do not resolve. They might not be on the winning side. They talk of the energy of protest, but also the burnout and the stress. By the end of film, one of them is essentially a refugee.
The stakes are so much higher in their struggles than they are for activists in Britain. These are life and death struggles, a point that is brought home in one scene where we see the Chilean police turn their water cannon on an ambulance crew as they try to save the life of an injured protestor. He subsequently dies. Rayen goes to visit his family.
Scenes in Hong Kong, familiar from news footage, are similarly distressing in places. We see lines of young people lined up against the wall, arrested and facing deportation to mainland China. This is a life changing moment: some of them may receive ten year sentences for their participation in the protests.
The film often takes viewers right into the heart of the protests. It is tense, carrying a real sense of threat and desperation at times. I felt in the pit of my stomach. It is admirably fearless film-making from the the 22-year old director Franz Böhm, for whom the film is an act of solidarity, film-making as activism. “Their problems are our problems” he says of the film’s subjects. “We aren’t journalists to them, we are friends.”
I was deeply moved by Dear Future Children, which is in selected cinemas in Britain tomorrow, Friday 19th. It’s a portrait of bravery, resilience and sacrifice, of what it really takes to change the world – the long-term commitment to the future, and to keep going no matter how hard it becomes. “Since I stood up in the first place” says Hilda, “I should be strong enough to stand up until the end.”