On Monday night, WILPF International attended the premiere in Geneva of A Home Far Away, a documentary film about WILPFer Lois Snow.
It is no surprise that the extraordinary life of Lois Snow now is immortalised in a film: she was a Broadway actress when she married Ed Snow, the first Western journalist who interviewed Mao Tse-tung. At the end of the 1950s, the couple were blacklisted by the McCarthy government and had to go into exile in Switzerland. Here Lois Snow kept a close relation with China, which did not prevent her from denouncing human rights violations in the country.
During the screening in Geneva on Monday evening, three aspects of the film and of the following discussion with the director, Peter Entell, stroke us: its poetic nuance, its historical context and its relevance to current human rights issues.
A POETIC VIEW OF HISTORICAL EVENTS
The demolition of Lois Snow’s house is used as a metaphore to introduce flashbacks: she remembers her past and in doing so, present and past time melt away in an array of old photos, shootings, letters and ancient Chinese music. Her past and present feelings, as well as the feelings of an entire country, China, find an emblematic meaning in the natural elements Lois sees through her window (corn, sunflowers, birds, clouds, poppies) and in traditional Chinese paintings.
Such beautiful poetic pictures and montages are the background to some important historic events of the past century. The film mentions the intolerance and repression in the US under McCarthyism, the war in Vietnam, Nixon and ping-pong diplomacy. However, it is mostly centered on the recent history of China, from Mao’s Long March against Chiang Kai-shek, until the Cultural Revolution and Tiananmen Square protests.
SPEAKING UP AGAINST HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES
“I became and remained for years a firm friend of China, spending much time and many trips there until, to my enormous shock, the murderous violence of Tiananmen in 1989 led me to publicly denounce the Chinese administration and to forego any support I had previously given,” reveled Lois in a recent interview with WILPF. Since then, she has never stopped denouncing human rights violations.
She is still in contact with Ding Zilin, who she described in the interview with WILPf as “an icon of human rights in China,” the woman who “heads the activist organisation Tiananmen Mothers fighting for rights taken away from the mothers and relatives of those killed or imprisoned during the government-instigated attacks” in Tiananmen. She supports also Wei Jingsheng, “another valiant Chinese dissident.”
OPPRESSION VERSUS DISSIDENCY
Lois Snow confesses that despite the many fights and cosmetic improvements, the Chinese society is still victim of oppression, corruption and misuse of power. Her denouncement finds an echo in the voice of the film director, who, at the end of the screening in Geneva, mentioned the cases of the Chinese dissidents Liu Xiaobo and Ai Weiwei.
The repression suffered by Liu Xiaobo and Ai Weiwei is a particularly thorny issue nowadays and you will hear more about that on this website during the next weeks, as this year’s edition of the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH) in Geneva is dedicated to the imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and to the dissident artist Ai Weiwei, member of the jury of the festival. Follow our website and social media in the upcoming days for more info on the festival.
LET’S GET INSPIRED
Although the open representation of Lois’s most private sorrow, at times, could have been spared, the overall documentary is a good inspiring portrait of a woman who has committed her life to improving the world.
We could all take inspiration from this extremely humorous, smart and still physically and mentally agile 92-year old woman. WILPFer Lois Snow has had close contacts with our members based in Geneva and she is still an active supporter of human rights. When asked during the interview with us what she hopes and envisions for the future of WILPF and of peace activism, she gave an encouraging answer:
“My hope for the future is based on such people – men and women – as determined to bring about positive change all over the world. I have two young grandchildren who, along with all the youngsters in the world, face a precarious future. They are a vital reason to support and aid the continuance of WILPF in its on-going important role.”