Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The first six Article 23 arrests get people thinking all the more of June 4th (and this even while it's still only May)!

Victoria Park one week before the 35th anniversary
of the Tiananmen Square Massacre
I had a dream last night in which Lee Cheuk-yan, was walking around talking to people at an event I was attending; prompting to wonder to myself, "Wait, isn't he supposed to be in prison?"
For the record: I don't normally dream about public figures/political prisoners.  But I guess my subconscious turned my being all too aware that we're just one week away from the 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre into a dream about the former chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China: that is, the organisation behind the (once) annual June 4th candelight vigils in Victoria Park -- the last of which I was at in 2019.   
One reason why I may have been thinking of the upcoming Tiananmen Square Massacre anniversary last night was because yesterday afternoon, as the bus I was taking passed by Victoria Park, my attention was caught by a greater police presence than usual on an edge of the public park.  It's nothing compared to what I imagine will be the case come June 4th (or probably even this weekend -- the weekend leading up to it) based on what's happened in recent years.  
And this on top of the now usual "refurbishments" being made at this time of the year to the football pitches where the June 4th candelight vigils used to take place.  Oh, and this year, there's also a very "red" looking event scheduled to take place in the area too -- one whose advertising mentions the dates 6/1, 6/2, 6/3 and 6/5 but not 6/4!  (For those who didn't realize: the Chinese way of writing dates is like the American one in placing the month before the day.) 
And after today's events, I'm thinking I'll be dreaming tonight of Lee Cheuk-yan's erstwhile Hong Kong Alliance comrade and fellow poliical prisoner, Chow Hang-tung -- who was one of the six people arrested today by the Hong Kong national security police "on suspicion of acting with seditious intention", marking the first apprehensions under the city’s new security law, which was enacted this past March.  (And yes, here's confirming that she, who already is behind bars, was arrested again... and for an alleged crime involving social media posts... even though she does not have access to a computer while behind bars!)

Somewhat bizarrely, "Secretary for Security Chris Tang confirmed... that the arrests were made in connection with a Facebook group that called for support for barrister and human rights activist Chow, who has been detained under the Beijing-imposed national security law since September 2021. The group was created on May 18, 2023, and the primary location for those that managed it was the UK.
It was also reported by the Hong Kong Free Press that: "The posts were said to have made use of an “upcoming sensitive date” to incite hatred against the central and Hong Kong governments, as well as the Judiciary. Police also alleged that the posts intended to incite netizens to organise or participate in illegal activities at a later time."
As Eero Kivistö, a self-described "guy from Finland posting random political ramblings", incredulously Tweeted in reaction to the news of Chow Hang-tung's further arrest: "Let me get this straight: an activist that has been detained since 2021 was arrested under a law that took effect in March? Seriously?"  Sadly, yes.  Also, this time around, the police arrested Chow Hang-tung's mother too!  (No, I am not kidding.  I wish I was but I'm not.) 

By the way, mention of Chow Hang-tung's mother got me thinking, of course, of the Tiananmen Mothers, the Chinese democracy activists promoting a change in the government's position over the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre led by the now 87-year-old Ding Zilin, a retired university professor whose teenage son was shot and killed by government troops during the protests. (What can I say?  That's how my brain works!)  
It's pretty incredible that they've sought justice and change for some 35 years now.  And while it's incredibly sad that their pursuit has thus far been in vain, they really are to be admired, if not supported, for their persistence throughout the three and a half decades.
As are the likes of Lee Cheuk-yan and those Hong Kongers who have sought the same -- and for many, the same amount of time.  And have been persecuted for doing so.  A Hong Kong Democracy Council Tweet noted that: "[With] today's 6 arrests there've been in all 76 arrests in #HongKong for commemorating #June4 #TiananmenMassacre since candlelight vigil was banned in 2020. Chow Hang-tung's been arrested 4 times for marking June 4 & is awaiting trial on remand for her role as organizer of the vigil".
I'm willing to bet that before 2020, no one in Hong Kong was arrested with regards to commemorating the Tiananmen Square Massacre. This not least because the annual candlelight vigils in Victoria Park were peaceful affairs; with the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people who took part in them being there to mourn, remember and honour the dead doing so in a thoroughly respectful and respectable manner.

By the way, the authorities can't seem to bring themselves to actually name the "upcoming sensitive date".  I trust that I've written the date enough times in this blog entry so that there's no mistaking which date is the one that is in question and at issue here.  Also, to be clear: despite their efforts to make it so, I sincerely doubt that Hong Kong has become part of the People's Republic of Amnesia -- or will anytime soon.  This not least because all their attempts to stop people commemorating June 4th only get people remembering it all the more!

Saturday, May 18, 2024

All Shall Be Well threatened to break my heart -- and even if it didn't, did move me a great deal! (Film review)

Hong Kong poster for this Hong Kong film that
had its world premiere at Berlin earlier this year
All Shall Be Well (Hong Kong, 2024)
- Ray Yeung, director and scriptwriter
- Starring: Patra Au, Li Lin-lin, Tai Bo, Hui So-ying, Leung Chun-hang, Fish Liew
For the record: All Shall Be Well was the opening film for this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival.  But by the time I got to the ticketing counter to get my HKIFF tickets (around one hour after ticketing began), tickets for both of its screenings had sold out!  So I had to wait until it began is theatrical run at the beginning of this month to do so!  Then, after viewing its teaser trailer (which is achingly beautiful but also sends out achingly painful vibes), I must admit to hesitating a bit to go watch it as I was afraid that it'd turn me into a puddle of tears!
Eventually though, I did go view All Shall Be Well -- and am so very glad I did so.  I'll come right out and say it: this really is a masterfully crafted film, handsomely lensed (by Leung Ming-kai) with characters that come across as very real and human (thanks in no small part to the movie's great ensemble cast), and with an important as well as multi-faceted story to tell.
All Shall Be Well centres on Angie (essayed ever so well by Patra Au) who we first see as one half of a loving couple along with Pat (portrayed by the luminous Li Lin-lin, in her first film appearance in decades).  Two former factory girls who ended up owning a factory and now living a retired life that appears full of contentment and comfort, they have good friends (the closest of whom are lesbian couples, like themselves); and while Angie doesn't get along great with her biological family, she looks to have been thoroughly accepted by Pat's family -- her brother Shing (played by Tai Bo, one of the lead actors of Ray Yeung's Suk Suk), his wife Mei (played by Hui So-ying), and their son Victor (portrayed by Leung Chun-hang) and daughter Fanny (essayed by Fish Liew).
But after Pat unexpectedly passes away one night, tensions and rifts appear in Angie's relationship with Pat's remaining relatives.  It's bad enough when Mei and Shing decide to prioritise a fung shui master's suggestion regarding what to do with Pat's remains over what Angie remembered and tell them had been Pat's wish -- and decide that Shing knows better at what time of the day Pat had been born rather than Angie (who, to make it clear, Pat had spent far more of her life with and spoken to than Shing).  But what really made things bad was Pat not having left a will and Angie (consequently) not being legally recognised as having shared a life and, among other things, an apartment with Pat -- and it becoming apparent that Shing and his family covet that apartment and don't think Angie had any right to it after all.
Seeing how great things had been for Angie and Pat when Pat was alive makes what happens with her family after her death so upsetting.  Frankly, it feels like a betrayal of Angie.  But what makes All Shall Be Well a really excellent work is that it also gets the viewer understanding where night shift security guard Shing, hotel cleaner Mei, Uber driver Victor and Fanny (who lives in a rat-infested apartment with her husband and two kids) are coming from, even if not one hundred percent agreeing with or approving of their perspectives and actions.  This also makes the film not only a touching lesbian drama but a thought-provoking and thoughtful meditation on family plus examination of social class and prevailing cultural mores in contemporary Hong Kong society too.    
By the way, I ended up not tearing up all that much when viewing All Shall Be Well -- at least not outwardly.  I could feel my heart aching and threatening to break at times during the movie though -- but also swelling and just generally feeling very much moved at other points in it!  
My rating of the film: 9.0

Monday, May 13, 2024

Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom tries to keep the spotlight on Hong Kong (even) in 2024 (Film review)

Poster for a documentary, not anime

Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom (U.S.A.-Hong Kong, 2024)
- Sean Fleck, director, writer and co-producer (with Alan Parks)
Back in 2020, Hong Kong protest documentary short Anders Hammer's Do Not Split was nominated for an Oscar.  One year later, Kiwi Chow's Revolution of Our Times had its world premiere at the Cannes film festival.  Five years on from the anti-extradition bill-turned-pro-democracy protests that captured the world's attention, films continue to be made about Hong Kong and its protest movement.  And while I've not managed to view James Leong's If We Burn (2023) and the anonymously made She's In Jail (2024), about imprisoned lawyer-activist Chow Hang-tung, I've managed to view Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom here in Hong Kong.
Made by American documentary filmmaker Sean Fleck, Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom is so newly made that it includes information about the passing of Article 23 into law, something which took place barely two months ago.  Incredibly, the pretty comprehensive work also has some coverage of such as the Article 23 protests of 2003, the National Education protests of 2012, the Occupy phase of the Umbrella Movement in 2014, the bookseller abductions of 2015 and Causeway Books' Lam Wing-kee's post-escape revelations before getting to its main subject matter: the 2019 protests and what's happened to, and in, Hong Kong since.
Although its poster may make it seem otherwise, Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom is a seriously legit work that takes a far from cartoony approach to Hong Kong, and the anti-extradition bill-turned-pro-democracy protests that raged on the streets for much of 2019 and into 2020 before Covid (then known as Wuhan coronavirus) woes got Hongkongers fixating on the pandemic over protests.  Witness, for example, its coverage of the peaceful -- and very large number of -- Hong Kong protestors (known as the wo lei fei who were "peaceful, rational and non-violent") as well as the frontline protestors known as "the braves" (that such as Do Not Split had focused -- I'd even say fixated -- on).

Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom also includes interview footage with a number of political personalities like exiled dissidents Frances Hui, Joey Siu, Samuel Chu and Jeffrey Ngo --  and Lee Cheuk-yan, a Tiananmen Square Massacre survivor and former trade unionist, activist and politician who's been behind bars ever since he was arrested and denied bail on February 28th, 2021.  By the way, it was somewhat disconcerting to see the senior man in the documentary -- especially those sections of it that spoke in what might be termed "the ethnographic present" -- since he's not appeared in public (excluding his court appearances) for more than three years now.
Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom also has interviews with a number of Hong Kong protestors whose faces and actual names are not revealed.  This is understandable since those people were taking a risk by appearing in this documentary -- even if they were only providing personal accounts and factual information about the pro-democracy protests.  (And, frankly, I'm also possibly putting myself at risk/in danger by revealing that I've seen the film and in reviewing it.  Such is the state of -- and life in -- national security era Hong Kong!)

Sean Fleck's documentary additionally contains interviews with a number of American politicians (including Republicans Mike Gallagher and Michelle Steel but also Democrats Raja Krishnomoorthi and Jake Auchincloss).  Although they come from, and represent, both sides of the ideological aisle, my sense is that this might weaken whatever messages that Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom seeks to make -- on account of the documentary being perceived as (primarily/wholely) targeted to Americans.
This is a pity since I actually think that Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom tries hard to be even-handed even while also being largely on the side of pro-demcracy Hong Kongers; something the way it chooses to conclude makes pretty clear.  Also, the quote from George Orwell's 1984 that the work chooses to open with it is says so much: i.e., "The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears.  It is their final, most essential command"; this all the more so due to it having been superimposed over a Maoist propaganda poster!

My rating for this film: 7.5

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Snow in Midsummer gets critical acclaim and screened outside of Malaysia -- but will it get what it deserves in its home country? (Film review)

Poster for Snow in Midsummer on display
at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre during
the 48th Hong Kong International Film Festival
Snow in Midsummer (Malaysia-Singapore-Taiwan, 2023)
- Chong Keat Aun, director, scriptwriter and co-music composer (with Yii Kah Hoe)
- Starring: Wan Fang, Pearlly Chua, Pauline Tan, Lim Koet Yenn
- Part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival's Firebird Awards: Young Cinema Competition (Chinese Language) program
In my previous blog post (and review of Hollywoodgate), I mentioned there being a number of Hong Kong films that cannot be screened in national security law era Hong Kong -- yet my (still) being able to view many works from elsewhere that are banned in their home territories.  Snow in Midsummer may be one more such cinematic effort.  At the post screening Q&A I attended, its director-scriptwriter, Chong Keat Aun, said that he had submitted his drama about what he's called "a hidden wound in Malaysian history" to the Malaysian film censorship board -- but, as yet, had not heard back from them.
The same day that it screened at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, Snow in Midsummer was named as the winner of the Firebird Award in the Young Cinema Competition (Chinese language) section of the fest.  And it is set to begin its Hong Kong theatrical run tomorrow -- four days before the 55th anniversary of what's now known as the May 13th Incident (which I used to remember hearing about as the May 13th race riots -- since, in the Malaysian worldview, Malays, Chinese and Indians are different "races" (as opposed to ethnic groups) -- for what seemed like the longest time).   
Snow in Midsummer begins on May 13th, 1969. Ah Eng (played by Lim Koet Yenn) is a young girl of ethnic Chinese parentage who's a bullying victim at her Malay language (and presumably majority ethnic Malay) Kuala Lumpur primary school.  Her Nyonya mother, Su Mei (portrayed by Pauline Tan), wants her husband Kooi (essayed by Peter Yu) to get Ah Eng blessed by a medium of Datuk Kong -- but he chose to have a ritual performed on their son Yeow (played by Teoh Wei Hern) instead.
The relationship between Su Mei and Kooi appears on the strained side. So it came as no surprise that when Kooi gets two tickets to go watch a movie at the Majestic cinema that evening, he elects to take Yeow with him. The snub ends up saving Su Mei and Ah Eng's lives. Because, the Majestic cinema ends up becoming a massacre site that night -- while Su Mei and Ah Eng, who had contented themselves with going and watching an open air Cantonese opera performance by the temple where the medium of Datuk Kong had effectively held court, were saved by members of the Cantonese opera troupe (whose leader is played by Pearlly Chua) who let them hide backstage with them while others ran riot and murdered or were murdered.
Fast forward 49 years and Ah Eng (now portrayed by Wan Fang) is now a middle-aged woman living in Penang. After she learns about a soon-to-be demolished "513 cemetery" on the Kuala Lumpur outskirts, she decides -- over the objections of her husband (who comes across as rude and domineering as her father) to go there on the anniversary of the riots -- to see whether she can find the graves of her father and brother; something her grieving mother had been unable to do all these years. 
Snow in Midsummer's director, Chong Keat Aun, spoke about the difficulties of finding Malaysian actresses for his film on account of the continued sensitivites over the May 13th Incident.  And I can't help wondering if the character of Ah Eng would have been more loquacious  if she had been played by a Malaysian actress as an adult rather than a Taiwanese whose lines were largely in Mandarin (despite the film being multi-lingual -- using Hokkien, Cantonese and Malay (as well as English? I forget!) dialogue (whose English subtitles don't quite do them justice).
Alternatively, it might have been Chong Keat Aun's intention all along to get the audience figuring a lot of things out for themselves via visual and other cues.  Frankly, I think this is a big ask of Snow in Midsummer's audience since there really are a lot of things that require prior knowledge: of not only Malaysian history but Malaysian ethnic relations, local ethnic traditions and Cantonese opera.  
As an example: The movie's title refers to the Cantonese opera performed in the film whose theme concerns a grave miscarriage of justice -- something that Chong Keat Aun clearly believes has taken place not only with regards to what happened on May 13th, 1969, itself but, also, the neglect of its victims over the years. (On a perhaps related note: I also felt that Ah Eng and Su Mei were women who their husbands sought to control -- even oppress -- them, yet were actually strong characters in their own way, even while being much put upon!)
In any case, the work does appear to have struck a chord with film festival programmers and audience members at such as Venice (where it had its world premiere), Taiwan (where it was nominated for 9 Golden Horse Awards) and now also Hong Kong.  Still, I do believe that it's in Malaysia where Snow in Midsummer would most resonate.  We can but hope that it will be allowed to be screened there at some point in time -- and without the damaging cuts that removed its essence, the way that has happened to Cannes award winner Tiger Stripes!  

My rating for this film: 8.0

Monday, May 6, 2024

Hollywoodgate reveals much more about Taliban-ruled Afghanistan than they may thought was possible (Film review)

Director-cinematographer-co-producer Ibrahim Nash'at and 
co-editor Atanas Georgiev at the post-screening Q&A
Hollywoodgate (Germany-U.S.A., 2023)
- Ibrahim Nash'at, director, cinematographer and co-producer
- Part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival's Documentary Competition program
In recent years, film censorship has become more of a thing in Hong Kong than previously was the case.  Probably not coincidentally, we've seen a decrease in the number of Hong Kong films screened at the Hong Kong International Film Festival.  (After all, I can think of a number of Hong Kong films that, while screened overseas, no longer can be screened in Hong Kong -- including one that had its world premiere at Cannes in 2021.)      
At the same time, many films (still) can be screened in Hong Kong that can't be screened in the countries that their filmmakers hail from and/or they were shot.  I think of offerings by such as Iranian auteur Jafar Panahi (two of which -- This Is Not a Film (2012) and Closed Curtain (2013) -- I viewed at previous editions of the Hong Kong International Film Festival); and, among those screened this year, the likes of Tatami, and this documentary work by Egyptian director-cinematographer Ibrahim Nash'at chronicling daily life in Afghanistan after the Taliban returned to power there.
Hollywoodgate takes its name from a complex on the outskirts of Kabul previously occupied by the American military (or, it is speculated, CIA operatives).  Soon after the last American forces left Afghanistan in 2021, the Taliban go in to see what's there -- and do so accompanied by Ibrahim Nash'at and his camera.
Granted permission to film in Afghanistan, albeit on pretty restricted terms, Ibrahim Nash'at's camera is officially trained for the most part on Mawlawi Mansour, a bushy-bearded Taliban commander who gets named as the Commander of the country's air force.  At great risk to his personal safety (threats to kill him if he misbehaves can be heard being issued by more than one Taliban member), Hollywoodgate's director-cinematographer also manages to capture a lot of other subjects in his frame.
Amazingly, Ibrahim Nash'at ended up managing to stay and film for a year in Afghanistan.  Over this time, one is able to see the Taliban evolve from guerillas to a more conventional military force; thanks in no small part to their reappropriation of an estimated US$7 billion worth of military equipment and supplie that the American forces left behind at complexes like Hollywood Gate.  (And while attempts were made to destroy equipment by the Americans, quite a bit of it were found to be repairable by the Afghans, including a rather alarming number of pretty impressive military aircraft -- transport helicopters, fighter jets, bombers, etc.)
Somewhere along the way, Ibrahim Nash'at also gained permission to film one of Mawlawi Mansour's junior soldiers, an officer named M.J. Mukhtar who, if anything, appears to have a stronger thirst for violence than his commander.  And also a looser cannon.  Yet the Egyptian documentary filmmaker stuck to spent time with him, including when M. J. Mukhtar drives around Kabul.  In so doing, he manages to film scenes from the car of everyday scenes, such as of people going about marketing -- which may be among the most chilling segments of Hollywoodgate thanks to the glimpses one gets of the terrible lot of women in the Taliban-controlled land.   

A the post-screening Q&A, Ibrahim Nash'at was asked if the Taliban had seen his documentary.  He replied that they had expressed no interest in doing so.  So the chances are that Hollywoodgate will never be screened in Afghanistan, and that probably is for the best.  As I could well imagine some members of the Taliban regretting his having been granted as much access as he was to film -- for what he managed to do is reveal a lot, a good bulk of which is chilling and also tragic indeed.
My rating for this film: 8.0.

Saturday, May 4, 2024

Tatami is a very suspenseful and watchable mix of sports and politics (Film review)

Face to Face with Zar Amir at the 2024
Hong Kong International Film Festival :) 
Tatami (Georgia-U.S.A., 2023)
- Guy Nattiv (who co-scripted with Elham Erfani) and Zar Amir, co-directors
- Starring: Arienne Mandi, Zar Amir, Jaime Ray Newman, Nadine Marshall
- Part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival's Cinephile Paradise program
As I write this, the Georgian capital of Tblisi is in the news as it is rocked by mass protests by the country's citizenry against its government.  In Tatami, however, it is a politically neutral space which is playing host to a World Judo Championships that Iranian judoka Leila Hosseini (played by Arienne Mandi) aspires to win, even if this means her going up and defeating a friend who also is a sporting rival in Israeli judoka Shani Lavi (essayed by Lir Katz).
As those familiar with Middle East politics will know though, Iranian hardliners would not countenance the idea of someone from their country appearing next to someone from Israel in public.  So when a genuine possibility arises of Leila and Shani coming together in an upcoming round of the competition, pressure gets put on Leila from the Iranian regime to either pull out of the championship by faking an injury or deliberately losing to an opponent in an early round.
A true sportswoman (who cares far more about sport than politics, and for whom it's anathema to throw a match), Leila refuses to do so.  In so doing, she directly defies her long time coach (and former judo champion), Maryam (portrayed by Zar Amir), as well as Iranian government officials who have commanded Maryam to get her charge to do what they want.  And because the order to withdraw comes from the very top, this act of disobedience and defiance puts Leila and Maryam -- and perhaps even more so since they're in Iran: Leila's husband (played by Ash Goldeh), young son and parents, and Maryam's family -- in grave danger.
Based on and inspired by true occurences and events, Tatami is a nail-bitingly suspenseful drama with a a great story to tell.  It also is a very watchable sports actioner with emotionally gripping judo scenes that must have demanded much physically from its actresses, and are excitingly lensed (in black andd white -- a decision Zar Amir explained as wanting to emphasize the black-and-white view of the world held by the Iranian regime, and black and white outfits of the competing judoka -- by Todd Martin) and dynamically edited (by Yuval Orr).  
As improbable as it might sound, Tatami got this (re)viewer caring about whether Leila would win every single one of the judo bouts we see her compete in -- often utterly ferociously, like she was fighting for her very life on the tatami -- as well as whether she and her family, and also Maryam (who one can sees does care very much for Leila as an athlete as well as Leila as a person, and for Leila's and her own safety), will somehow be able to escape the wrath and/or grasps of the ayatollahs.  It helps that Arienne Mandi put in such a winning performance; ditto Zee Avi, whose character was more difficult to champion and like while even more conflicted.
More than by the way, Zar Amir not only co-starred and -directed but also was in charge of Tatami's casting and is one of the film's co-producers.  I think it also worth noting -- and I'm sure had some impact on the production -- that she knows what it's like to have incurred the anger of the Iranian authorities.  More specifically, she was banned from appearing in films and TV for 10 years, and sentenced to  to 99 lashes with a leather strap, by the Iranian court -- and only avoided these penalties by fleeing Iran.  She has lived in France since 2008.     
My rating for the film: 9.0

Friday, May 3, 2024

Favoriten shows us a multicultural Austrian elementary class' world (Film review)

48th Hong Kong International Film Festival 
advertising by the side of a street
Favoriten (Austria, 2024)
- Ruth Beckermann, director and co-scriptwriter (with Elisabeth Manesse)
- Part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival's Documentary Competition program
In what can seem like another life now, I aspired to be an educator.  Hence my often gravitating to books. TV shows and films with educational settings (including, to name just a few: To Serve Them All My Days; To Sir With Love; The Paper Chase; and Dead Poet's Society).  
If given the choice though, I'd focus on secondary or tertiary rather than primary education.  For, frankly, my sense is that the younger the child, the more difficult it is to deal with them!  So I am inclined to take my hat off the most to primary school teachers -- and was left in awe of the one we see in Favoriten -- who is obviously adored by her young charges, all 25 of them, the majority of whom she teaches and communicates with in a language that's not their first language.
Ilkay Idiskut is a teacher in the largest elementary school in Vienna, Austria.  Favoriten -- which takes its name from the working-class district in which the school is located -- documents the goings-on in her classroom over a period of three years as she guides her multi-cultural, co-ed class of students (many of them recent migrants and/or refugees from countries such as Turkey (where she herself originally hailed), Syria, Serbia, Romania and Ukraine) through the third to fifth grade of the Austrian school system.  
Director Ruth Beckerman and cinematographer Johannes Hammel also follow Ilkay and her class on trips to a mosque (where a student proudly reveals that his father is an imam) and a Catholic church (where it is revealed that none of the students are of the Catholic faith).  There are also scenes where the parents, with their children present, meet with Ilkay (where it comes to light that quite a few of the parents are themselves struggling with speaking German); and one where the school's head teacher holds a meeting with his staff (during which one gets the distinct sense that the school (system) is not as well-funded as should be the case).
In the main though, the focus in Favoriten is on the learning that takes place in the classroom; with Ilkay teaching the class about how to behave and treat one another as well as maths, German and other formal subjects.  And while Ilkay is the main "character" in the film on account of her being the teacher in charge and primary adult in the documentary, the students quickly show that they may be diminuitive in size but quite a few of them have outsize personalities, and presences that have an effect on their surroundings and others around them!
At one point during filming, director Beckermann gave the children camera phones and had them film and conduct interviews of their classmates.  This results in interesting footage and conversations.  But the actual film crew also appear to have been successful in getting the children to act naturally in their presence too; resulting in Favoriten being a remarkably intimate collective portrait of a group of children whose struggles along with endeavor are honestly shown, and who have been helped along for three years by the presence in their life of an exemplary educator who truly cared for them.    
My rating for this film: 7.0