Cinema: from West to East, bridges and oceans

Article written by: Juliana Fernandes

As the title suggests, this is an article of movie suggestions in line with others in PACTA, which you can see here and here. This time, the theme is: from West to East, what connects us (bridges) and what divide us (oceans). Hence, the four films/documentaries summarized below have in common their approach to themes that reflect the historical relationship of some of the greatest powers of the West and East, some of the greatest factors of tension between them and some of the greatest factors of mutual appreciation. Addressing a period of time from the pre-World War II context to the present; and locations from the UK and the US to Russia, China and North Korea, these are our suggestions:

Mr. Jones (2019) is a biographical film based on a true story about Gareth Jones, a British journalist famous for interviewing Adolf Hitler and for his friendship with Lloyd George – the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom prior to Winston Churchill. In 1933, the film begins with a introduction to the main character and his intention to interview Stalin, which would lead him to travel to the USSR. Thereby, the film addresses “the Soviet question” in the course of a discovery journey that begins in Moscow. The protagonist would later visit Ukraine, where he would discover a gloomy reality of hunger and misery – Holodomor –, which, if it wasn’t for him, would probably never be discovered. Jones can therefore be considered a decisive figure of the 20th Century, although forgotten, not only for uncovering this less known aspect of the Soviet regime, which had previously a good image within some Western cultural elites, but also for decisively influencing George Orwell in his literary work – another figure who is present in the film. Thus, Mr. Jones historically exemplifies the difficulty of knowing the reality of closed authoritarian regimes that, attracted by an utopia and faced with difficulties in materializing their desired designs, seek to hide their weaknesses behind a veil of secrecy and propaganda. It is also a warning to the future, an appeal to the conscience of those who do and justify everything in order to avenge their political and philosophical ideas until the truth is discovered.

American Factory (2019 ) is an 2019 Oscar-winning documentary in its category, which portrays the great benefits and great difficulties of working in a multinational and multicultural team. It is also about their difficulties in communicating and living together, as much as about the inevitable bonding between the two communities that speak different languages, when working as a team. Set in Ohio, US, the film follows the first steps of a new glass production plant by a Chinese tycoon, an industry that has collapsed due to globalization, application of new technologies and consequent automation. Bearing in mind this opportunity for many American workers and the dedication and willingness to learn from a qualified Chinese team living temporarily in the US, the film begins with great optimism and the common will to make the new factory prosper. However, the mood among workers rapidly deteriorates as they encounter incompatibilities between their working methods: on the one hand, foreign workers choose isolation due to the progressive mistrust of efficiency, commitment and local methods; on the other hand, Americans are suspicious of the motivation and solutions used by their coordinators, dissatisfied mainly due to the humbris manifested by the other party. However, as they get to know each other better, the longing for the homeland and families of Chinese workers, as well as the recognition and mutual admiration of work among the personnel, would prove to enhance socialization and the creation of bonds between the two communities, in a joint discovery of the enormous potential that only the work of a united and motivated team with different specializations and contributions can achieve. In essence, this is a film about international relations – about the importance of working together when facing common challenges and enemies, the richness in diversity and sharing of experiences and cultures and the irreplaceable value of cooperation in the face of their differences and differing individual interests.

Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower (2017) reveals the contradiction between independent freedom of thought and the feeling of nationalism and patriotism. Joe Piscatella’s documentary tells how Joshua Wong became an unlikely leader at the age of 14. The young man, founder of the pro-democratic Schoolarism movement, led the protests against China’s interference in Hong Kong, advocating freedom of expression and thought, as opposed to the implementation of National Education that was announced in 2012. The film is Wong’s call for the autonomy underwritten in the Sino-British agreement and the “One country, two systems” policy, giving an understanding of how the implementation of National Education and the fact that Beijing appoints the chief executive of the Special Administrative Region are contradictory measures to these principles. The footage highlights the sense of belonging to a nation experienced by many members of Hong Kong’s new generation, who do not know each other as Chinese. “Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower, available on Netflix, is on the line of “Hooligan Sparrow“, also about an activist who uncovered China’s controversial policies. In 2017, the work was recognized with the audience award (in the category of “World Cinema – Documentary”) at the Sundance Film Festival.

Under the Sun (2015), directed by Vitaliy Manskiy, is a film that follows the life of a girl from North Korea, as well as her classmates and parents, over the course of a year. North Korea is seen as the land under the sun by its citizens, a symbol of the eternal guardian Kim Il-Sung, but it is a fact that the totalitarian regime is one of the greatest dictatorial examples in the world today. However, the truth is that the country remains a mystery, especially the way its citizens live, so documentaries on these issues are reduced, not least because it is not allowed to film without risking devastating criminal consequences. In order to film the scenes of the documentary, the director obtained authorization from North Korea, on the condition of following a restricted script delivered by the Government. But there is a plot twist here, because some filming is achieved in the moments between written scenes, what clarifies the hidden reality that is intended to transmit abroad, represented by some citizens before the cameras, revealing the urgency of showing the rest of the world that they are a prosperous country with superior values. Without political commentaries, the director focuses on images and, in an almost sinister way, we can verify the hypocrisy behind the North Korean regime, which only masks political and social problems, in order to maintain a status quo in which only they believe. Therefore, it can be seen as a propaganda documentary revealing some hidden facts, but also a production that transpires a huge aesthetic and cinematic quality, attested by the nominations and awards received in Film Festivals.

This text was written in collaboration with Hugo Neves.

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