From Hong Kong to Chile to Uganda, three separate young women are fighting for a better tomorrow. The movie ‘Dear Future Children’ by young filmmakers is not only an inspiring documentary about young activism but also a call to action for those who are older – to remember their idealism in youth and to listen to the current younger generation wanting to be heard.
<Click to watch the official trailer: https://youtu.be/TTBjPc9d7sw>
Playing outside, meeting love interests, going out, spending hours and hours with your friends laughing, dancing – and screaming. Screaming is what many young people are doing these days. Not due to any sense of juvenile carelessness, but because they actually care. They care about their rights, they care about their future, and they care about others.
Screaming on the streets, shouting demands. Demands for human rights, equality, climate justice – the list goes on. Young people are standing up for their rights, and the right to be heard, all around the world. Dear Future Children accompanies young activists throughout their passionate attempts for change.
Pepper, Rayen and Hilda: standing strong and standing up
The documentary follows three young women around the world: on the protests in Hong Kong against the Beijing-influenced administration, in the protests in Chile against social inequality, and in Uganda at the local Fridays for Future protests and actions for climate justice.
”They may think we belong to them that they possess us – but I am not from China I am from Hong Kong. I don't think I can return to my old life anymore; you took up these responsibilities and you can't really go back."
Pepper is demonstrating in Hong Kong for democracy and independence from a repressive Chinese government. The 25-year-old is living a double life to disguise her role in the protests and to keep herself and especially her family and friends safe. As so-called ‘frontliner,’ Pepper and others stand protectively between the violent police and the crowd, experiencing police brutality firsthand. Haunted by the fear of being the next ones to be brutally beat up and arrested anytime.
“We don’t risk our future by protesting on the streets – not going on the streets and not raising our voices will risk our future way more. I’ll do anything for a better future […] I owe this to my future children.”
Rayen is part of the protest movement in Santiago de Chile and demands social and democratic justice for her home. In the brutal clashes between police officers and demonstrators, she fights against the ever-growing disparities between the rich and the poor that divide Chilean society. The 23-year-old and her allies risk more than their freedom, with their dead friends as evidence.
“I fear the future I’m working for right now, will not be there, because of inaction. Activism needs a lot of commitment and sacrifices – but I’m just wondering if it will ever pay out. If people will really listen to me.”
The consequences of climate change in Uganda have shaped Hilda’s life from an early age. Between floods and rainfalls, Hilda lost her home but found her combative spirit. Thus, she founded the Fridays for Future Uganda movement in return. At 22 years-old, Hilda is vehemently committed to combating environmental pollution and the fatal consequences of the climate crisis, to save not only her home but the world.
A portrait of action, fear, vulnerability – with the spirit of hope
The film accompanies these young women up close on their individual struggles for social justice, against exploitation of the population, for independence and the aversion of the climate catastrophe.
Whether at larger demonstrations – displaying brutal incidents, at a public event with high-ranked politicians, or even inviting the viewer into very personal conversations – Friedemann Leis’ camera work and the overall cinematography keeps the film viewer very close to all the action. The film passes on important information and facts but in a strong, intimate and emotional way achieved through the strong ties to Pepper, Rayen and Hilda.
Director Franz Böhm has done an astonishing job catching and displaying their spirits and the hardships they face. The development of a deep relationship based on understanding and friendship between the protagonists and the film team formed another foundation for this incisive documentary. As a consequence, the women open up not only to the team but also to viewers. We understand their motives, feel their anger, cry their tears. Their personal sacrifices, their vulnerability, and their reasons to continue to fight despite everything are accessible and relatable to the audience.
One thing all three women share is hope. Hope that their voices will finally be heard and change will follow. However, what weighs heavy is the other aspect that unites them – fear. Fear of failure. Fear of their opponents, the ones in power. This fear is not unjustified.
Facing authorities and their forces of power
Rayen, Pepper and many more risk their lives every time they go protesting on the streets. They fear. Fear of arrests, fear about their loved ones, and fear that this might be their last action in this fight against injustice. But why do they have to fear – even for their lives? Whom do they fear? The impressions from Dear Future Children paint a frightening picture. Police and military forces crack down on the protesters, using water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets, with no regard for casualties. As Rayen says, “When they shoot at us, they shoot us right on the face”. Fittingly, Pepper’s biggest fear if she would be arrested is not the prospect of facing many years behind bars and lose her freedom – no her biggest fear is the police brutality waiting behind those bars. It’s a shame that the very forces that are supposed to be protecting the population – especially the youth – are the ones causing the most fear and terror.
Still, many societies around the world hold on tightly to the heroic image of their governments and institutions, and so they prefer to ignore or repudiate their horrific misdeeds rather than face the harsh reality.
“They criminalize the victims,” says Chilean photographer Nicole Kramm Caifal, one of Rayen’s friends who was severely injured due to police brutality and wasn’t believed. Through clever propaganda and restrictions of basic human rights like freedom of speech, authorities manage to portray protesters as the enemies. This is so they do not stand in the way of the authorities achieving their own goals and expanding their power. However, this does not stop the young generation as they continue to fight for justice – but it makes it even harder.
The burden to change the world
“You’re the ones who have to change the world,” says one woman in the beginning of the movie to Rayen, pointing out that the older generation won’t change. But do we really have to? Why is such a huge burden put on the younger generation? Changing the world is not something you do on the side. And when we take action, stand up for our rights, use our voice – scream – why are our voices not heard? It seems like we are screaming, but nobody hears us, and nobody answers. For years, experts and scientists have been pointing out the dangers of anthropogenic climate change. Have adequate and sufficient measures been taken so far? Hilda knows the answer, otherwise she would not miss her lectures to point out the urgency of climate change to those in power.
Dear Future Children shows inspiring youth activists, but first and foremost it shows the young humans behind the activism. It shows their struggles, their fears, their sacrifices, and their hopes. Being an activist, especially protesting on the streets can be really mentally draining. A German neologism describes the situation very well: Mütend is a combination of the words müde (‘tired’) and wütend (‘angry’). This feeling of helplessness and exhaustion, and above all anger, describes well the situation I observe both in the general youth movement, in my personal activist environment, and in myself.
One voice in Southeast Asia also well aware of the struggles and sacrifices attached to the commitment to climate activism is Ms Nanticha 'Lynn' Ocharoenchai. Lynn is a Thai climate and environmental activist and the founder of Climate Strike Thailand. She single-handedly started Thailand's first youth climate movement and took on roles including activist, campaigner, spokesperson, educator, social media manager, event organizer, researcher, writer and more, to mobilize the Thai public to demand climate action. A big responsibility and task for one person, which Lynn describes as “great experience which can be good for young people to grow up to be responsible adults, who know about the importance of carrying on and spreading awareness. At the same time, it was also mentally draining and connected with a lot of pressure to mobilize a crowd.” This, the pandemic, and a change in interests led to Lynn’s choice rather to concentrate on storytelling and writing about the environment, focusing on another aspect of activism. With the end of her studies and the beginning of work life, Lynn also noticed a shift in priorities. It is harder to be passionately involved in activism and protests when adulthood hits you.
Might this be the reason why a lot of protests and rebellions are initiated by the youth? Why adults are more reserved in the struggle for justice and smile at their children? Because they are too busy with earning a living, being responsible now, situated on the serious side of life?
What they leave out is that we, their children, will eventually also grow into adulthood. Without action now, ignorance won’t be a solution anymore for when our serious side of life comes. The tipping points of the climate system may already have passed, human rights may have taken a back seat, and the prospects for a peaceful and carefree future may be a distant prospect.
Acknowledging our current and future selves – and our children
Even though questions of social justice, human rights, and climate change should concern everyone – it doesn’t. Some are simply too privileged to care, but some solely neglect the thought of a threat that will come after them at some point in the near future.
Dr Jane McGonigal, Director of Game Research & Development at the Institute for the Future, explained that if individuals think about their own self, but in the future, “Your brain acts as if your future self is someone you don’t know very well and, frankly, someone you don’t care about.” If we even view our own selves in the future as strangers, it's not surprising that we don't waste any more thought on generations yet to be born.
However, the lack of acknowledgement and support from our parents and grandparents not only dismisses the younger generation’s fears for the future, but also our pain and worries in the present and thus puts further burden on us. Isn’t it enough to observe the present fears and worries of your own children to support them, even if it doesn't seem to affect your own future? In all honesty – it should be. That’s why the young generation urges you: if you can’t do it for our future children, at least do it for us, your current children. We are screaming – Are you listening? please answer.
Cinnamon Isabella Ernst is an environment and human rights student activist, currently studying B.A. International Cultural and Business Studies with focus on Southeast Asia in Passau, Germany.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Heinrich Böll Stiftung.