HKIDF2020 - Jurors Notes for International Doc Competition

William Lau, Jury of International Doc Competition


Even today many still consider documentaries are confined to exploring “reality,” “society” and “history” and one should turn to narrative films for “emotions,” “relationships” and “human nature.” I was constantly reminded of this disconnect as I watched the many entries of this year’s Hong Kong International Documentary Festival -- compared to the emotions and themes explored by these documentaries, the ones often seen in narrative films feel almost pretentious, artificial and fake.

African Bride, which follows a Belgian pensioner in his sexual conquest in Kenya, may seem like a classic tale of exploitation at first glance, but it also touches upon the old man’s loneliness and depression. The African woman who goes out with the white man is, in a sense, also a hunter who understands human weaknesses. Transparent World tells the story of a successful media person helping his son with a mild mental disability realize his dream of becoming a filmmaker and assisting him in filming a documentary.

The resistance films revered by local activists in recent years often promote the illusion that it takes only two hours for a revolution to succeed. They may look inspiring on the surface, but at their core they corrode the spirit. By contrast, some of the documentaries this year that explore race and political oppression are more down to earth and manage to highlight profound issues in extraordinary ways. Of Land and Bread employs footage filmed by a Palestinian volunteer to “look directly” (head-on) at the oppression of Israeli occupiers. Map of Latin American Dreams brings out the immense suffering of Latin Americans by revisiting the stories of people in old photographs.



William Lau is a film and music critic and translator of Chinese, English, Japanese, French and German films.