Dear Future Children looks at 3 different activists from different continents who are trying to change the world. Like director Franz Böhm, they are all in their early twenties. Unlike him, they are all women. And as the film develops, we see how their priorities and strategies differ.
We first meet Rayen, who is from Santiago, Chile, She is heavily tattooed, has long green fingernails and dyed red hair. As she goes to a corner shop, the assistant tells her that her generation must change the world, as the previous generation has given up. They chat about the socialists who have a stall in the town square, and Rayen talks repeatedly about class.
Like Rayen’s family. Hilda’s is also poor, but it wasn’t always that way. They used to own a plantation, but then global warming caused flooding and affected the foodstuffs they used to feet the animals. They were forced into selling everything. Hilda founded Fridays for Future in Uganda. We first see her leading a group of young people who are trying to remove plastic bottles from a river.
Pepper in Hong Kong became involved in the pro-democracy movement, when the Chinese government threatened to revoke a law which had prevented them from deporting Hong Kong activists to the mainland. The violence that demonstrators like Pepper face is intense – we see baton wielding police entering a tube train and beating the shit out of anyone who comes near.
Rayen and her friends are also no strangers to state violence. They demonstrate through clouds of tear gas. Around 20 protestors have been killed by the police (we see Rayen visiting the parents of one of these martyrs). Hundreds have been blinded by rubber bullets – it seems that the cops aim deliberately at the face. Many more have been injured or arrested by the successors to Pinochet’s storm troopers.
Hilda’s problems seem pretty mild in contrast. She has been invited to speak at the Copenhagen Climate Summit and she is worried. Not about the hypocrisies involved in flying to a climate summit, nor the dangers of speaking truth to power at an event that has so obviously been organised to distract from the inactivity of governments and big business. Hilda is apprehensive about leaving her parents for so long.
The Hong Kong demonstrations are also being brutally repressed. Pepper and her friend set up apps, which can be used by both demonstrators and members of the public to find safe areas where they can have a reasonable chance of avoiding serious injury. Then the Chinese government bans all demonstrations. The movement feels unable to organise. One of Pepper’s friends kills herself. Another is jailed for 10 years.
Pepper is defeated by the State. Hilda is appropriated. She gets to make her speech. Delegates cry. The world continues to burn. Only Rayen continues to fight. She sees no alternative to resisting injustice. She needs to resist for those who have been killed and blinded. She needs resist it for her father, who was also shot in the leg by a police bullet.
There is a lovely shot near the end of the film. Pepper is living in exile under an assumed name. She seems to be completely alone. She picks up a stone to throw it listlessly into the nearby sea. The camera cuts to Rayen’s hand. She, too, has a stone in her hand. She is marching defiantly on her way to the next demonstration.
I get the feeling that some of the truths that Dear Future Children is telling are not what director Böhm is intending. That the real hero is supposed to be Hilda. Now Hilda is obviously a determined activist who is serious about changing the world. But you can’t watch Hilda in the opulent Copenhagen halls without thinking of Greta Thunberg. Greta went to their party and called them out for their blah blah blah. Hilda is dancing to their tune.
Rayem doesn’t have a thousandth of the influence of Hilda among the rich and powerful. Not on her own. But she is part of a collective struggle. And although they are facing just as repressive state apparatus as their colleagues in Hong Kong, the Chilean movement of which Rayem is a small but important part is class conscious and aware of its own power.
So, whatever Böhm intends us to think, here’s my take home. Be like Hilda, Pepper and Rayem and fight injustice. But don’t be like Hilda and let injustice co-opt you. Don’t be like Pepper and let injustice isolate you. Be like Rayem and carry on fighting.