Director: Franz Böhm
What message would you send to the next generation? A time capsule perhaps buried in the Blue Peter garden filled with memorabilia and pop culture references; something more personal maybe, an inheritance or bequest that offers family or community legacy? For the subjects of Franz Böhm’s documentary Dear Future Children, their message is a political and practical one, participating in social actions to better the countries they live in and leave an improved and more equal situation for the next generation in Chile, Hong Kong and Uganda.
Rayen in Chile protests against the social justice record of the despotic government as often as she can, risking imprisonment, brutal beatings and even death to change the regime. In Hong Kong, Pepper does the same, rejecting the imposition of Chinese rule since the British handover and the sequential removal of freedoms against which Pepper and her friends protest. Finally in Uganda, climate activist Hilda seeks local change to reduce plastic use and restore the country’s vital river supplies.
While Dear Future Children explores different kinds of legacy, the effectiveness of these as inter-related stories is variable with Chile and Hong Kong fitting more effectively together as related violent demonstrations which provoke reactions from the respective governments that seem disproportionate to the scale and nature of the uprisings with significant cost to human life. Seeing the watercannons, tear gas and other weaponry used against young adults is brutal and sometimes hard to watch as police in full riot outfits beat unarmed students.
That each of the protagonists in Böhm’s film is female is very powerful, giving an impression of global collection action led by inspiring women. The film focuses not just on the midst of radical action but also on the longer-term consequences for protestors suffering at the hands of their own governments and pushing the protagonists to think not only about their goals but the ongoing price of not achieving them.
As the story unfolds, there is an increasing sense of the overwhelming scale of the fight that these individuals are facing when met with the often brutal dismissal of those they are trying to change. History shows us that demonstrations for political and social progress eventually bring rights but as Böhm shows they can be dismantled more quickly than they were ever won and through the actions of Rayen, Hilda and Pepper Dear Future Children rather despondantly wonders what mass action can achieve in the short term.
By comparison, Hilda’s narrative suffers and while it chimes with the climate focus of current discourse, its valuable place in the film feels overshadowed by the ferocity and immediacy of the battles in Chile and Hong Kong. There is a violence of a kind in Hilda’s story with flooding ruining livelihoods and taking lives but Böhm never gives it quite the same visual impact as seeing police beating protestors in the equivalent perspectives.
Dear Future Children is as inspirational and is it disheartening, admiring the uphill battles that Hilda, Rayen and Pepper continue to fight but aware of the personal cost that limits them. Yet, their determination is admirable and the film will leave you with some hope that through strong leadership and coordination, one day some of these battles will finally be won.
Dear Future Children is released in cinemas on 19 November.