Two films screened at the Anthem Film Festival looked at life under communism: The Hong Konger: Jimmy Lai’s Extraordinary Struggle for Freedom and Life Behind the Berlin Wall. The annual libertarian film festival is part of FreedomFest, which ran this year from July 13-16 at the Mirage in Las Vegas.
The Hong Kong-focused film, which won the Best Documentary Feature Award, could not be more contemporary. An ultimate resolution of the events it chronicled still awaits. The history-focused film about Berlin’s division into free and communist sections surprisingly touched me in several ways.
The Hong Konger
The Hong Konger: Jimmy Lai’s Extraordinary Struggle for Freedom played as biography, history, and a film about current events.
I had never heard of Jimmy Lai. The film begins when as a teenager he arrived in Hong Kong from China and began working in a factory. He had an entrepreneurial spirit, describing himself as “a troublemaker.” His particular brand of trouble resulted in jobs for hundreds of people and the establishment of the Apple Daily, the most popular newspaper in Hong Kong. And it made him a billionaire.
Then came the Communist Party crackdown on Hong Kong’s freedom. The film makes this story vividly clear through interviews with historians, government officials, people in Hong Kong and people who fled.
Jimmy Lai could have easily afforded to buy a mansion anywhere in the world and leave the dangerous city Hong Kong had become. But he chose to stay and resist the oppression. The Communist Party raided and shut down his newspaper and arrested him.
During the question-and-answer session after the screening the filmmakers explained that Jimmy Lai’s imprisonment continues. In solitary confinement awaiting trial, he has not been allowed to talk with a lawyer and can see his family only once per month. His family is leading the fight to help him.
You can watch the trailer for the film at the bottom of this review and can find out more about the struggle for freedom in Hong Kong at the film’s website.
Behind the Wall
Life Behind the Berlin Wall, only 37 minutes long, won Anthem’s Audience Choice Award for Short Films. During that half hour-plus, for anyone like me who lived through that period, it stirred memories and added to the understanding of that tragic period of history.
The Berlin Wall went up when I was in seventh grade. I saw pictures and read tragic stories about its horrible impact, until it came down 28 years later. From recurring stories of people being killed trying to cross the wall, to Ronald Reagan’s iconic “tear down this wall” speech, the film will either fill gaps in your knowledge or bring back memories. I still have the t-shirt I bought celebrating the destruction of the wall 33 years ago.
A Berlin Resident
Berlin resident and historian Dr. Rainer Zitelmann did the legwork for the film. He found and interviewed people who had lived on the East Berlin side. They recounted how the quality of their physical and spiritual lives slowly declined after they were cut off from the freedom and capitalism of West Berlin. Their descriptions of the shortages and the deterioration of their environment were frightening in that they reminded me of the recent lockdown experience.
Zitelmann explained during the question-and-answer session that a large part of his motivation to make the film came from listening to young people on the political Left. He said that in both Germany and the United States he hears them say that previous attempts at socialism were “just not done correctly.” His film succeeds in making the point that all socialist systems suppress freedom and life. He plans to make it available to schools across America. You can view a version of the film here.