Faceless | Review | Hot Docs Documentary Festival 2021


Images of protests flood our timelines weekly. People are tired of violations of democracy, injustices and police brutality but very rarely do we see beyond Western demonstrations, but Jennifer Ngo's Faceless aims to correct that narrative. 

1.03 million people flooded the streets of Hong Kong in June 2019, flashing signs painted with "democracy now" and "free Hong Kong". Ngo collates emotion-filled images to exhibit the intimacy found in protests and place humanity back in the narrative where mainstream media strips it. Ngo tries to compact quite a complex history through a brief timeline of events. For those unfamiliar with the motives behind the protests, it can be a little challenging to follow, as to be expected when handling such a vast expanse of time, seemingly pinpointing back to 1997. 

Ngo's lead contributors remain predominately, as the title suggests, Faceless, remaining anonymous behind masks and protective wear. They become identifiable solely through labels such as The Student, The Artist, The Believer, The Daughter - known for their souls and not their names. It's a challenge for the audience, as faces are what connect us. Seeing people's expressions, their eyes, and their vulnerability are our main invitation to empathise and Faceless strips that away. There's some hard-hitting imagery that sometimes toes a fine line of being too graphic in a world desensitised to similar images that are now part of our weekly consciousness. Ngo has, however, captured some incredible moments. The pockets of community found within the chaos are heartfelt and emotional, demonstrating a deep kinship through the shared experience of tragedy. They eat together, discuss food they love and what it means to them, commiserate over the knock-on effects it has in the personal life with parents, all while keeping a level of anonymity. 

Resilience is the core foundation of the film. Though starting in a place of despair, Faceless ratchets up slowly to a place of hope with the youth taking control and having immovable compassion for their fellow "comrades". They fight, even if they don't know the result of their actions. It is slightly surreal to watch an unfamiliar city burn and feel a deep-rooted sense of irony coming from the West and realising the juxtaposition of how we cover familiar media. These images do not look dissimilar to the ones seen across the Atlantic in America, or even right here in the UK, but the way our government approaches them with condemnation when the fight for democracy is a global one is quite haunting. Faceless does an excellent job of chipping away at those walls we place between "us and them", just enough so we can look through the hole and say: "I see you, we want the same things". 

Hot Docs starts on April 29th, running till May 9th - tickets are available via www.hotdocs.ca 

Hot Docs is geo-locked to Canadian audiences. 

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