Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower

What makes a scene work?

Does it lie in the carefully executed plans of a film’s cast and crew? Or does the magic rest upon fortuitous mistakes, spontaneity and improvisation? What steps must be taken to convey your vision and intent? Watch our video series, Frame of Mind, to get answers to these questions and more from commentators working in a wide variety of areas in production who’ll guide you through clips from their films, in their own words. Moviemakers and film fans: Grab your notepads, popcorn, or both, and press play.

Adolescent activism isn’t exactly what you could call any country’s “national pastime.” Protests, as any iPhone video recorded by defiant citizens on college campuses, financial districts, endangered environmental havens or elsewhere will show, can be nasty affairs, rife with batons, pepper spray and non-negotiable orders of evacuation from their premises. And yet, in 2011, one 14-year-old Joshua Wong seemed to miss the memo that told the rest of his peers to stay home in times of crisis. A natural political leader of a movement of his creation, called Scholarism, Wong emerged victoriously in a grassroots battle he waged against China’s mandatory communist National Education curriculum imposed in schools throughout Hong Kong, through peaceful yet powerful demonstration.

Director Joe Piscatella’s documentary on the extraordinary efforts of Wong and his supporters, Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower, faced a number of challenges when shooting some of the film’s protest scenes. In an age in which acts of “citizen journalism” can be broadcasted across social media platforms and put viewers on the front-lines of live activist action, cinematic depictions of such tumultuous events run the risk now more than ever, Piscatella says, of appearing “generic” or “interchangeable.”

In the video commentary below, the director shares his thoughts on how he worked to resolve this problem, by using “multiple cameras to cover multiple points of action.” He also discusses his “biggest win” when shooting the sequence—his capturing of Wong in a rarely displayed moment of emotional vulnerability—and why it was crucial to convey how deep into their public acts of defiance he and his supporters were willing to go.

What did you take away from Piscatella’s frame of mind? Let us know in the comments below. MM

Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower is now available to stream on Netflix. Video courtesy of Netflix.