Saturday, July 04, 2020

Filmfest DC ’20: We Have Boots

Today is Independence Day for the United States. Wednesday was the opposite for Hong Kong. 7.5 million Hong Kongers lost their freedom and the Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region (SAR) lost its autonomy when the CCP imposed the so-called “National Security” Law, in clear violation of the “One China Two Systems” (1C2S) arrangement. This did not just happen out of nowhere. It is the culmination of a concerted program to violate and undermine the legally-binding Sino-British Joint Declaration. Evans Chan provides the full historical background in the tragically timely We Have Boots, which streams for free through Monday, courtesy of this year’s Filmfest DC.

As soon as Britain and the CCP started negotiating terms of the 1997 transfer, many Hong Kongers (justifiably) feared the worst was inevitable. HK activists were already protesting CCP human rights violations, but Chan identifies the demonstrations in support of imprisoned Chinese Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo as a watershed moment. Student activism came to the fore in opposition of the proposed new educational curriculum that was naked CCP political propaganda. That movement was a direct precursor to the 2014 Umbrella Movement (unsuccessfully demanding true universal suffrage, rather than Potemkin elections featuring the CCP’s hand-picked candidates), which in turn spawned the 2019 mass protests against the Extradition Bill.

In short, things have been getting steadily worse and markedly less free in Hong Kong for over ten years. Chan provides context that is often missing from the U.S. media’s superficial coverage. At various times, he establishes the schism between the scrupulously non-violent moderates and the more radical extremes, as well as the split between the 1C2S majority and the genuine pro-independence minority (which is small, but growing, perversely thanks to the thuggish behavior of the HK cops and Beijing’s enforcers).

We Have Boots is not the most elegantly constructed documentary you will see, but Chan marshals a great deal of information to give viewers a comprehensive grounding in the events leading up to where Hong Kong is today. He also clearly establishes the dangers activists face, including the infamous state-sponsored kidnapping of the Causeway booksellers and the rash of mysterious suicides among democracy activists. There are moments that are simply Orwellian, as when activists are charged with “inciting to incite rioting.”

Chan incorporates extended sound bites from numerous figures from the Umbrella and 2019 protest movements. Unlike some docs that favor student leaders like Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, Boots gives equally-weighted time to more senior figures, such as Benny Tai and Chan Kin-man. The latter makes an especially strong impression in archival footage from before his trial and conviction, when he explains why he stopped using air conditioning and started sleeping on the floor to prepare himself for his anticipated prison sentence. That is what a real “non-violent” protestor looks like.

As a nation, America should have been rallying the world against the implementation of the National Security Law, but instead we were too busy worrying about our own petty partisan resentments. It is not too late for sanctions and asylum provisions. We Have Boots (which takes its title from a Nikki Giovanni poem) makes it clear just what is at stake, for Hong Kong and the rest of the free world. Highly recommended, We Have Boots streams for free through Monday (7/6), in conjunction with this year’s Filmfest DC.