CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 20 October 2018

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Film festival shows struggle to break barriers

For the 40th consecutive year the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society put together a two-week international programme around the Easter holiday season, featuring world and Asian premieres, as well as other award-winning productions. 

The entries were rich in their portrayal of the universally-shared human struggle to move beyond the limiting confines that circumscribe life.

There was great variety, ranging from a portrayal of the dilemma faced by a young man from Ghana on prioritising his family or his education, to Malians and people from Côte d’Ivoire in their flight northward to Europe, as well as a horse racing syndicate founded in a Welsh mining village and an animated portrayal of life and death of Adam Jecek Winkler.

The documentary, Those Who Jump, gives a candid account of the mass exodus from Mali and Côte d’Ivoire to the Spanish territory of Melilla on the northern coast of Morocco.

Described as being the final step into the European Union by one of its directors, Estephan Wagner, the documentary portrays the hope of those trapped in the hopelessness of war and poverty.

Having survived the nightmare of crossing the Sahara, the forced migration is blocked by razor- and barbed-wire fencing at the Melilla border. Footage described as “black dots on a screen” from the surveillance camera of Spanish border police was spliced into the film.

In a post-screening sharing, Wagner dwelt on what awaits the refugees on the other side of the fence with a vivid description of the scars and bruises that his co-director, Abou Baker Sidibe, a Malian who made it to Germany, picked up along the same trek.

“They are small (compared with the Syrian refugee tide), but in no way insignificant,” Wagner said. As Sidibe is currently waiting on an asylum claim in Germany, he could not make the trip to Hong Kong for the festival.

The British publications, The Independent and The Guardian, report that most people who reach the no man’s land of Mt. Gurugu to stare into Melilla are economic migrants fleeing poverty.

However, the spirit driving people to break the confines of their life situation is alive and well, even in peace time.

The documentary, Dark Horse, also had its Asian premiere. It tells the true story of 23 villagers from the Welsh mining town of Cefn Fforest, who had long been deprived of their livelihood by a decline in the coal industry, but were able to forge a syndicate and breed a racehorse they named Dream Alliance, which eventually won the Welsh Grand National.

One woman described her decision to go into the syndicate as a desire to have something of her own, after a lifetime of belonging to and being dependent on someone else.

Challenging themselves in the arena of the ancient sport of kings, the Welsh commoners’ dedication to leaving their mark on history was rewarded with the realisation of pride in what they had achieved, as well as the prize money.

Like any sport, horse racing ignores the off-course social divides and the contest itself only celebrates the feats of excellence of horse and jockey.

Columbia University graduate, Kelly Daniela Norris, premiered her film Nakom in Asia. It presents the stark dilemma personal ambition pits against family obligation in rural Ghana.

The tragic death of a father in a traffic accident suddenly transported an Accra university student back to the closed environment of his rural home with its rigid social order, hard labour and sexual taboos.

As the young man’s dream of life beyond the horizon strengthens, he struggles in drawing the line between what is right and wrong, but eventually sees his deepest core aspirations prevail.

Norris told the audience of her own challenges in her four-month shoot to get electricity, as well as keeping batteries charged from local solar panels, which she presents as reflecting the struggle of her lead character.

The Tragic Mountain is an animated collection of pencil-drawn and computer-generated images, interspersed with photographs and movie clips portraying the life of Polish-born Winkler in his fight against Communism in Eastern Europe and Afghanistan.

His decision to voluntarily end his life in his old age is another tale of choice and consequence in times of repression and injustice.

The non-profit, non-governmental organisation behind the festival describes its mission as a dedicating to the discovery and promotion of creativity in the art and culture of film.                            

 

                         • Hongyu Wang