Sarajevo Film Festival 2024

A symphony of human resilience

CHINA / Contrasting cultural richness with harsh realities under China's systematic campaign.

Combining the story of Jewher, the daughter of Uyghur economist and autonomy advocate Ilham Tohti, and of Abduweli, a linguist and poet – All Static & Noise tells the world about who the Uyghurs are and what is currently happening to them at the hands of the Chinese government. Beyond that, it tells a story of exile, resilience, and the dignified hope one finds when accepting one’s fate but not resigning to it.

All Static & Noise David Novack
All Static & Noise, a film by David Novack

Multi-faceted suppression campaigns

The Uyghurs are recognised as the titular nationality of the Xinjiang region in Northwest China. Their culture is much different than that of the predominant Han Chinese. They are primarily Muslim. They use the Arabic writing. Their appearance is different too. Though they are one of China’s 55 recognised ethnic minorities, they are subjected to a multi-faceted and systematic campaign against them. One that includes identity-based persecution, mass detentions, surveillance, forced sterilisations, labour, and assimilation.

Breaking the silence and telling the world about what is happening is crucial. The film starts with Jewher. She likes to dance. She does it when she’s happy and when sad. It is also one thing her father—now imprisoned for life by the Chinese state for his views and advocacy—didn’t know that she could do as she was growing up. He wanted her to focus on her studies.

Though they are one of China’s 55 recognised ethnic minorities, they are subjected to a multi-faceted and systematic campaign against them.

Jewher and Abduweli

The two were separated at the airport on their way to the US, and Jewher has not seen her father since. Finding herself alone, in exile, at the age of 18, she focused on her studies. But eventually, she did much more than that. Her identity became her lifeline, turning her into a human rights advocate, a voice against Uyghur oppression, and an advocate for her father’s release.

In parallel, we are introduced to Abduweli, a linguist and poet, imprisoned and tortured for the simple act of teaching the Uyghur language to children. His journey unfolds as he finds freedom in Istanbul, carrying the scars of his past.

The filmmakers weave Jewher and Abduweli’s stories together with the accounts of so many others who dared to stay in front of the camera and tell their truth about what happened to them or to family members. Together, they create a tapestry of resilience, pain, and the quest for justice. Combined, all the people who dare to share their stories create a vivid portrayal of both the magnitude of the Chinese state’s abuse and of what it means to survive.

All Static & Noise David Novack
All Static & Noise, a film by David Novack

A chorus of voices

On a closer look, the film features many more people and stories because many others appear in the photos shown, in the archive footage, and in all the animations of events that can’t be seen but can be recounted and vividly illustrated by these survivors and their families now in Turkey, Kazakhstan, Europe, and the United States. All Static & Noise is like a chorus of voices echoing the same tale of oppression, each adding a new layer. The interconnectedness of these narratives is impactful, making the film a lot more than the sum of its parts.

Coming from a place where simply living abroad can mean your family may get arrested – the act of telling the truth in front of the camera is a high risk and an act of courage. They had a choice between safeguarding the safety of their families back home and the imperative to tell the world about the abuses committed against them. And silence is precisely what the Chinese government wants to impose on them, and does not succeed.

All Static & Noise is for sure a necessary film because it breaks the silence. It tells the world about the Uyghur people and how they are both vulnerable and strong. And that matters. The story of their abuse and oppression, paradoxically, is both unique and also universal in the resilience and the strength of character it calls for. And for the audience – there is a moral call to action, to know and to remember, as watching this film is bearing witness from the beginning to the end.

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Bianca-Olivia Nita
Bianca-Olivia Nita
Bianca is a freelance journalist and documentary critic. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

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