Thu, Jul 13, 2017 - Page 13 News List

A tale of two protests

Expat filmmaker Tobie Openshaw will contrast his experiences covering violent demonstrations in South Africa with Taiwan’s Sunflower movement in a talk next week at Academia Sinica

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Tobie Openshaw covers the Sunflower movement during March and April of 2014.

Photo courtesy of Tobie Openshaw

Tobie Openshaw braced himself for violence and tear gas as he headed out the door with his cameras to the Legislative Yuan, just like he did in his native South Africa decades ago.

“I was loaded for bear,” he says.

But it turned out that the 2014 Sunflower movement protests were more peaceful than Openshaw could have imagined. Last time he covered a protest, was in the mid-1980s at the height of apartheid violence in his home country, where there were legitimate concerns that he could be killed.

“I just can’t believe that people can actually protest in this way, so peacefully but yet so firmly,” Openshaw says. “We’re just sitting here. We’re not doing anything but... it was super powerful.”

The filmmaker was mostly shooting for various media outlets, but he also spent personal time at the scene as he could “no longer stay away as an observer.”

He will show video clips and talk about his experiences at the protests on July 21 at the Academia Sinica Research Center for Humanity and Sciences for a program organized by the French Center for Research on Contemporary China.

When Openshaw first arrived at the legislature, he noticed that while emotions were high, there was no anger or scuffles. Students were on the balcony waving their cellphones and singing a protest song, while the police were virtually invisible.

“I was immediately struck by how people were working to keep this peaceful and non-confrontational,” he says. “People on the microphones were going, ‘The police are not our enemy. You are also Taiwanese and we are fighting for you too.”

Even when there were clashes during the protests such as the Executive Yuan occupation, Openshaw says it was done in a civil manner.

Event Notes

What:Sunflowers in the streets: A personal journey documenting the movement

When: July 21, 2pm to 5pm

Where: Academia Sinica Research Center for Humanities and Social Sciences, conference room 1, 128, Academia Rd Sec 2, Taipei City (台北市研究院路二段128號)

Admission: Free, registration required:

“That was tame in comparison [to South Africa],” he says. “The police were virtually apologizing to these kids, [basically saying] ‘We’re sorry but we have to pick you up and remove you.’”

External support was also impressive as food and water arrived, charging stations were set up and a phone company provided free Wi-F.

Openshaw also interview gangster Chang An-le (張安樂), also known as the White Wolf, who attempted to enter the legislature with his followers, but were blocked by legislators and the police.

“We were really going into the lion’s den,” he says. “We were not threatened at all, but it’s that mafia thing, where it’s like, ‘You are my friend, please sit down, my friend, let me make sure you’re my friend.’ But there’s just a little implication that this could switch at any moment.”

Openshaw will also talk about the media’s handling of the event — for example, how one outlet wasn’t interested in the story because there was little violence. He also noted the effective use of social media, as well as the way the students’ self-discipline, from trash control to meticulously removing the posters they put up, even cleaning the glue with alcohol.

Just a few days into the protest, Openshaw knew that this was a historic moment that would change Taiwanese history.

“The perception of Taiwanese [youth] being strawberries [was] easily squashed [during the protests]. I saw bravery there,” he says.

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