In Pursuit of Silence, Hooligan Sparrow, Chisholm ’72: Unbought & Unbossed

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, Durham

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Early on Full Frame’s Friday presentations, In Pursuit of Silence provided a beautifully shot exploration of sounds, noise, and the absence thereof. The documentary took several approaches, from the spiritual to the slightly technophobic, but almost all of the angles provided intriguing insight to the importance of quiet time. As it turns out, constant exposure to noise has serious, harmful effects on our minds and bodies.

For those with occasional loner tendencies, the film works well as a validation of those habits, which feels good in a culture that encourages extroversion. In Pursuit of Silence is hardly a cast of staunch, schoolmarm-style shushers—a man who spends a year walking across the country with a vow of silence and a charming field audio technician at Denali National Park stood out—though its varied approaches to the subject of silence made the film feel unfocused at times.

From learning about noise, I went to learning about two noisemakers, with two documentaries of the day complemented each other in completely unexpected ways. The first was Hooligan Sparrow, which followed Chinese activist Ye Haiyan as she fought for the rights of women and sex workers. Hooligan Sparrow‘s focal point was Ye’s involvement in protesting a case where six girls were taken to a hotel and sexually assaulted by their principal the head of the local department of education.

Her protest, along with her history of advocating for sex workers, set the Chinese government on her tail, as well as on the tails of her handful of cohorts and filmmaker Nanfu Wang. Wang’s first-person perspective lent the film a shocking, intense reality. Her cleverness and bravery in the face of bureaucratic iniquity is astonishing: She hid a camera in a pair of glasses to clandestinely record video, and hid an audio recorder in shorts under a long dress to record an interview with government agents who had been tracking her. Ye’s story is difficult and heartbreaking, but Hooligan Sparrow is an invaluable look at how women are still undermined and threatened across the globe.

Chisholm ’72: Unbought & Unbossed is a documentary from 2004 that was presented at Full Frame as part of this year’s thematic program. As a black woman, Chisholm positioned herself in a political world that didn’t welcome her, but did so with a relentless spirit. She inspired everyone around her, and her mission to carve out a place for people of color and women is something that still resonates powerfully today. Chisholm was a powerful, compelling speaker, and it was difficult not to cheer along with the archival footage of her speeches, as well as when she told a bullying congressman to “vanish.”

The takeaway from both of these films was that women are a force in the world. With a small protest of fewer than a dozen people, Ye scared the monolithic Chinese government enough for it to consider her a serious threat to its establishment. And though Chisholm missed out by a long shot on winning the Democratic Party nomination for the presidential candidacy, her fierce dedication to her principles and the future is inspiring no matter your line of work.