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Review: Dear Future Children

October 15, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Dear Future Children, which won the Audience Award at this year’s Hot Docs, is a documentary that focuses on a trio of young female activists fighting for their futures in different parts of the world.

Director Franz Böhm introduces us to Rayen in Chile, Pepper in Hong Kong and Hilda in Uganda. They are all in their twenties, and have each taken up the mantle of a different cause, with the film following them as they struggle to enact meaningful change in the face of older adult indifference and government opposition.

Rayen is fighting against inflation, low pensions for the working class and the rising cost of living in Chile, which has led to tense street protests in Santiago, with the government all but declaring war on the activists and using the full force of the police to crack down on them.

Pepper is similarly on the frontlines battling a militarized police force in Hong Kong, taking to the streets during the 2019 protests to fight for democracy and independence against the encroachments of Beijing. Meanwhile, Hilda is leading a Fridays for Future movement in Uganda, having seen the impacts of climate change on her family’s crops. She is trying to enact change in her local village by organizing marches and fishing thousands of plastic bottles out of the river, and the film follows her as she speaks in front of world leaders at a climate conference in Copenhagen.

While Dear Future Children is set up as an inspiring look at young people trying to change the world, Böhm’s film is actually at its most interesting when showing the frustrating setbacks that come with activism work and how these women respond to it. Rayen is following in her father’s activist footsteps, and fully understands the risks she is taking on by getting involved. Over the course of the film, she is faced with the death of a young activist, as the protesters are blasted by water from firehoses and hit with a barrage of rubber bullets, which have taken the eyes of several hundred people.

In some of the film’s most revealing moments, Pepper talks about the personal sacrifices she has made to fight for Hong Kong’s future. She has to conceal her identity, and is essentially forced to live a double life, having to separate out her social life and activism work and being careful not to mix the two. In the later scenes, she grapples with the feeling of defeat after China forces through the extradition law under the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving her questioning if her actions have been in vain.

The well-edited film brings together dramatic footage of the protests in Chile and Hong Kong (some of which has been seen in other documentaries), which gives added heft to Rayen and Pepper’s sequences. While Hilda’s story is maybe the most hopeful of the three, it also ends up feeling a bit secondary within the film, which I think partially has to do with to the fact that her activism work doesn’t involve the same type of street protests that are harrowing to see unfold onscreen.

The film also loses its focus a bit with the triptych structure, and at times it feels like more context is needed behind the Santiago protests in particular. Rayen briefly touches on how they date back to the privatization of the country’s services (including water) under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, but this could have been elaborated on further.

But, by splitting its time fairly evenly between them, Dear Future Children offers a decent portrait of these three young activists, while serving as a fine introduction to the different causes they are each fighting for. The film opens with Rayen saying that “when you fucking lie to the young people, you will find our answer on the streets,” and it’s a powerful message that rings throughout this documentary.

Dear Future Children is now playing in select theatres, and will be available on Digital and VOD platforms as of October 29th. It’s being distributed in Canada by Photon Films.

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