is largely assumed the Samizdat tradition that fueled intellectual dissent
behind the Iron Curtain was entirely nonexistent in Maoist China. That was mostly,
but not one hundred percent entirely true. There was one journal that
accurately reported the world as it truly was. Its print runs totaled somewhere
around the twenty copy range—as in two-zero—but that was still more than
sufficient for the Communist Party to crackdown hard on its editorial staff.
Their remarkable stories of dissent are documented in Hu Jie’s Spark (clip here), which screens as
part of Cinema on the Edge, the retrospective tribute to the Beijing
Independent Film Festival.
four primary writer-editors were all students, mostly from different cities,
who had been labeled “Rightists” during the last bout of state-sanctioned
insanity. They were all therefore highly vulnerable to whatever punitive measures
the Party might unleash, but they were not planning to hand out Spark on street corners. They envisioned
sending it to an elite, enlightened few within the Party bureaucracy, who might
be in a position to foster reform. Alas, their naivety contributed to their sad
Spark really did start
with “innocent” intentions, with respects to Party authority. Shocked by the
bodies literally piling up in the streets as a result of famine induced by the
Great Leap Forward, the Spark core
group assumed their local officials were merely applying national policy in an
incompetent manner. However, as they ventured to other provinces and made
contacts, they discovered the situation was just as dire everywhere else.
Nevertheless, the Party and its flunkies insisted there was nothing wrong. Spark called them out on it and they
paid a fearful price. They were not alone though. The sympathetic local headman
and suspected “Rightist” Du Yinghua, a Party member since before 1949, was also
story of Spark is truly bombshell
material, but Hu, China’s underground Claude Lanzmann, makes no concessions to
style. It can be dry and slow-going at times, but then there will be scenes
that make your hair stand on end. We see live-on-tape as one of Hu’s interviews
is cut short by a call from the local Party bosses. We also hear surviving Spark staffer Xiang Chengjian admit he
thought he was essentially sacrificing his life for the sake of the truth.
Hu demonstrates how dangerous it is to preserve
history when you live under a tyrannical regime. Yet, he has made it his
calling with films like Spark and the
more accessible and grabbier Though I Am Gone. Of course, his work is all connected, chronicling interrelated
historical incidents. Clearly, he must work outside the system and faces opposition
from the Party apparatus, so the Beijing Independent Film Festival deserves
tremendous credit for programming his documentaries. Very highly recommended, Spark screens this Saturday (9/12) at
UnionDocs, as part of Cinema on the Edge.
Labels: Chinese Cinema, Cinema on the Edge, Documentary, Hu Jie