Opening Night at Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Hooligan Sparrow (2016), Nanfu Wang’s impressive first film, touched a lot of nerves last night in the Curzon Soho, London, where it opened the HRW festival. Skillfully interweaving the banality of Women Rights activists’ everyday lives and the enormity of the corruption, censorship and rights abuses in China that they relentlessly contest, and suffer from, it might be hard to believe that the director can’t be long out of film school. And yet, the casualness with which she captures the simple stuff – travel, joking, cooking, homework – as well as the horror of real and imagined danger (the thugs in wait, danger of arrest, pervasive surveillance) bespeaks a lack of pretension, a filmmaking humility if you will, that is both refreshing  and the key to Hooligan Sparrow‘s success. In the Q&A, Nanfu Wang told the audience that she fell into this story accidentally and was previously not political at all, and it is her innocent, dogged and ultimately self-endangering documentation of its journey that renders the film so compelling to watch, and its issues so urgent to address.

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