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#HotDocs21 Review: Faceless

May 7, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2021 Hot Docs Festival is running virtually from April 29th to May 9th, all films are available to stream for audiences across Canada

Shot during the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which saw hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets to fight against the extradition bill being pushed by mainland China, director Jennifer Ngo’s documentary Faceless introduces us to four of the young people who were on the frontlines of the movement.

The subjects, who appear masked and are given nicknames, include The Student, a high schooler who went as a photographer to document the protests with his camera; The Artist, a young queer woman who is using art to protest against government overreach; The Believer, who was in university during the 2014 Occupy Movement and wants to provide spiritual support to the new wave of protesters; and The Daughter, a teen girl whose police officer father doesn’t approve of her taking part in the movement.

Ngo, a reporter who is making her directorial debut with this film, interviews these young activists, who talk about why it is important for them to defend the sovereignty of Hong Kong, as well as the risks they are taking to be involved in the movement and how it is impacting their personal lives. The director mixes these interviews with harrowing, on the ground footage of the protests, including some powerful slow motion shots of running crowds, as police violently crack down on the protestors, and escalate the situation by firing tear gas into the crowd. This is matched by a dramatic soundtrack.

These protests against the extradition bill, a direct threat to the “one country, two systems” promise that was made when Hong Kong was handed over by the British in 1997, spanned hundreds of days and were a watershed moment for ordinary people standing up against the government, even as their efforts seemed increasingly futile. Sadly, Beijing forced through a version of the bill in 2020, with far-reaching consequences that are detailed in a series of postscripts. Playing like a companion piece to last year’s Hot Docs film Hong Kong Moments, Faceless offers a powerful look at four young people risking everything to fight for their freedom.

Faceless is available to watch from April 29th until May 9th. It includes a Q&A. Digital tickets and more information can be found right here.

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