a totalitarian state uses violence, intimidation, and humiliation to rule over
its people, it is hardly surprising when clinical depression develops as a
by-product. Yet, we rarely address the lingering emotional issues for those who
live through traumatic oppression, like the kind wrought by Mao and Stalin. For
victims, this often layers on additional levels of stigma. Dr. Zenglo Chen
would know only too well. He survived the Cultural Revolution, but the atrocities
and privations he endured continued to torment him over the subsequent decades.
Dawn Dreyer & Andrea Love chronicle his healing process in the animated
documentary short Fear (trailer here), which screened at this
year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
age of four, Dr. Chen’s parents were persecuted and eventually condemned to
re-education camps, leaving the young boy in the care of his twelve-year-old
sister. Given the hardships his family endured, Chen was certainly entitled to periodic
bouts with the blues. Unfortunately, his survivor’s guilt and abandonment
issues would prove emotionally paralyzing, even after he moved to America.
Despite his training as an organizational psychologist, Dr. Chen had trouble “curing”
himself. It was not until he integrated spiritual elements into his life that
Dr. Chen finally started feeling at peace with himself.
out those Gideon Bibles in hotel rooms do some genuine good from time to time, at
least judging from Dr. Chen’s story. Indeed, there is a great deal we can learn
from the way Dr. Chen balances his personal faith with the science and medicine
of his vocation. It is an inspiring film in many ways, sensitively rendered by
Love, the animator, through hand-drawn and stop-motion techniques.
is a real role model, but his life-story is much more complicated than “mere”
triumph over adversity. In a brief seven minutes, Dreyer & Love give
viewers a sense of that rich complexity. Still, there is considerably more
uplift in Fear than the vast majority
of documentaries on the Cultural Revolution and mental illness. It is a deeply
moving film that features some cool animation as an extra added bonus. Very
highly recommended as a stand-alone film on its own merits, Fear will be incorporated into Dreyer
& Love’s feature-length project Bipolar
Girl Rules the World and Other Stories, following its screening as part of the
Whoopi’s Shorts program at the 2016
Tribeca Film Festival.
Labels: Animated films, Cultural Revolution, Documentary, Short Films, Tribeca '16