Femme Filmmakers Festival Review 7: Freedom Swimmer

Year: 2022

Runtime: 15 minutes

Director: Olivia Martin-McGuire

By Joan Amenn

“Freedom Swimmer” (2022) is a gut-wrenching film about fleeing oppression as well as a lyrical visual poem. This ying yang of narration combined with montage and animation creates a unique and powerful documentary that will haunt you long after the last frame.

As the film recounts, from 1950 to 1980 two million refugees swam to Hong Kong seeking asylum from China. Over three million more died trying or were captured and tortured. This is the story of one man and his very young daughter and their terrifying escape to freedom as he tells it to his granddaughter. “Freedom Swimmer” never allows us to know their names or see their faces. Their anonymity is the point of the film and it is used with scalpel sharp precision to invoke sometimes harrowing emotional responses from the viewer.

The animation used to illustrate the grandfather’s memories is as spare as classical Asian brush paintings but outstanding in its ability to convey motion and urgency, particularly when the man and his child are huddled together on the open waves. This is contrasted by the almost serene stillness of the recreated apartment where the grandfather and his granddaughter sit together as he urges her to now plan for her own flight to freedom.

Sadly, “Freedom Swimmer” is meant to be a warning that now Hong Kong is as unsafe as China was when the narrator had to make his own journey. However, this film is a stunning testament as to how art can be the best way to attempt to understand the incomprehensible, to try to heal the unbearable. A call to witness as well as an alarm to those who value human rights, “Freedom Swimmer” is one of the best films I’ve seen in 2022.

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