Documentary Film Prize Recipient, 2018

Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower, directed by Joe Piscatella, is the 2018 recipient of The Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize.

Piscatella’s film tells the story of teenage activist Joshua Wong, who mobilized young people in Hong Kong and risked his future after the Chinese government backtracked on its promise of autonomy to the territory.

After regaining control of Hong Kong in 1997, Beijing promised a kind of independent rule under the “one country, two systems” principle. But in 2010, the Chinese government announced a plan to implement a mandatory “moral and national education” program, which made no mention the Tiananmen Square massacre. Opponents denounced it as propaganda.

Wong helped found an opposition group called Scholarism, which insisted on the autonomy of Hong Kong’s education policy. Members of the group occupied a public park near government offices and began a hunger strike in 2012 to draw attention to the cause.

When the Chinese government announced it would vet candidates for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive in 2014, Wong helped bring tens of thousands of mostly student activists to the streets in a bid to preserve Hong Kong’s autonomy. Scholarism joined other organizations to fuel a major protest that became known as the Umbrella Movement (as demonstrators used umbrellas to shield themselves from police pepper spray), which lasted several months, brought parts of the city to a standstill, and lead to the formation of Demosistō, a pro-democracy political party.

Joshua won the World Cinema Documentary Audience Award at Sundance 2017 and is now a Netflix Original in nearly 200 countries. Joshua Wong was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his activism portrayed in the film. Previously, Piscatella directed #chicagoGirl: The Social Network Takes on a Dictator (2013), about an American teenager in Chicago who helps coordinate the Syrian revolution. #ChicagoGirl won the DOC U Award at IDFA 2013.

In addition to his directing work, Piscatella has written numerous feature scripts and television pilots for 20th Century Fox, Spyglass and Touchstone Television. His credits include Disney’s Underdog, Warner Bros.’ Ozzy & Drix and NBC’s Stark Raving Mad.

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