Now Playing! Takin’ It to the Streets

Still from Evans Chan's 'We Have Boots.' (Courtesy BAMPFA)

The easy-listening Doobie Brothers lineup was far from my favorite incarnation of the ’70s party band. So I can’t claim a good excuse for evoking Michael McDonald’s earnestly ineffectual vocals in service to the people-powered movements on the march in this week’s films. But as a wise man once said, “You go to war with the song lyrics you have, not the song lyrics you wish you had.”

As I write this, it’s unclear which Americans—masked or unmasked, armed or unarmed, elated or angry, celebratory or destructive—will mark the Election Day results by heading out to the main drag for some group therapy. Let’s maintain a bit of perspective: It’s a signpost on the road to justice.

We Have Boots
Now streaming
BAMPFA

When Britain’s 99-year lease of Hong Kong ended in 1997 and the sophisticated territory was transferred back to China, change was certain. The speed of that change, however, along with the reaction of the populace, were enormous unknowns. In retrospect, it’s not surprising that China has gradually and inexorably exerted its will on Hong Kong’s political and cultural institutions. The shocker, though, is the emergence of an organized resistance largely led and fueled by young people.

We Have Boots, Evans Chan’s new follow-up to his 2016 documentary, Raise the Umbrellas, is an unequivocally sympathetic recounting of the last several years of protests, augmented with sit-down interviews with most of the opposition leaders. There’s something endearing about Chan’s heroes (and the rare heroine), whose idealism far surpasses their strategizing. Their adherence to principles is extraordinarily inspiring, especially in stark contrast to waves of riot police whaling away at unarmed civilians.

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From the 2014 heights of the Umbrella Movement through the valleys of arrest, limbo, reinvention and recommitment that followed, We Have Boots catalogs—and replicates—the messy chaos of nonviolent democratic aspirations. All the while, China hovers in the shadows and in broad daylight, a far-from-gentle giant.

Misbehaviour
Now streaming
Hoopla

The revolution was televised, didn’t you know, smack in the middle of the 1970 Miss World competition from London. But I’m getting ahead of Phillippa Lowthorpe’s colorful and exuberant feature about the moment that the women’s liberation movement broke through in England.

A (somewhat) fact-based big-screen movie that hit pay-video-on-demand platforms in late September and is already streaming on Hoopla (for free, that is, for library patrons in San Francisco and many other local burgs), Misbehaviour stars Keira Knightley and Jessie Buckley as birds of a feather with different plumage: Sally’s a generally conventional grad student and mom who’s fed up with male presumption while Jo’s a red-haired commune-ist who attacks the patriarchy by spray-painting billboards.

Long before the duo has targeted the pageant, the call is coming from within the house. Miss Grenada (Jennifer Hosten, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Miss South Africa (Pearl Jansen, played by Loreece Harrison) envision parlaying their token presence into better opportunities for themselves and, not incidentally, greater visibility for Black and brown women.

All these ladies aren’t working in sync, mind you, but on crossing tracks: The brassy, tip-the-apple-cart outsiders might potentially sabotage the contestants’ one shot at the apple. That’s a welcome dash of nuance for breezy mainstream entertainment.

The men are represented by a caddish Bob Hope (an unconvincing Greg Kinnear) and pageant founder Eric Morley (generously imbued with showmanship, flair and dignity by Rhys Ifans), who are merely challenged to marshal the ability to change with the times. For Sally, Jo, Jennifer and Pearl, the stakes are substantially higher.

The Other Side of Everything
Now streaming
Amazon Prime

The academics and intellectuals on the ramparts of Hong Kong’s democracy movement can find a wellspring of inspiration in long-time Belgrade activist Srbijanka Turajlić. An engineering major in the ’60s, she never forgot the feeling of betrayal when her respected instructors failed to speak up and support student demands. Twenty-some years later and a professor herself, she didn’t hesitate to grab the microphone and join campus protests against Slobodan Milošević.

Now in her 60s and irrepressibly candid, blunt and self-deprecating, Turajlić takes a dynamic stroll through her past and her country’s history in The Other Side of Everything without hardly leaving the family apartment where she’s lived since birth. One of the strongest docs from the 2018 SFFILM festival, it’s streaming for free with Amazon Prime.

The filmmaker is Turajlić’s daughter, whose respect for her subject nonetheless allows for some delicious bits of familial baggage. There’s a great moment, for example, when Mila carps about Srbijanka’s numerous televised speeches at rallies (“no one else’s mother ever did that”) and her residual childhood resentment unexpectedly surfaces.

The truth, of course, is that Srbijanka is a mother whom any child would be proud of. Even if, in cataloging her and her generation’s failure to achieve sustained, democratic progress, she’s much harder on herself than her children could possibly be. Yeah, you could come away a bit downcast from The Other Side of Everything. For my money, though, fighters are always heroes.