“Chinese Dream” has become the CCP’s latest new-and-improved propaganda slogan,
but for many Chinese citizens it holds deeply ironic connotations, especially
for those fully aware of the nation’s chaotic Maoist-era mass movements.
Recognizing the gaps in her family history often coincided with the gaps in the
official history she learned at school, Zhang Lei set out to uncover the truth
about her parents and grandparents, as well as her country, hoping to reach
some cathartic enlightenment. Nick Torrens documents the decades-long process
in China’s 3Dreams (trailer here), which screens
during the 2016 Brooklyn Film Festival.
troubles and neuroses of Zhang’s family pre-date the Cultural Revolution,
starting with her grandfather’s long-term imprisonment during the Anti-Rightist
campaign. Even after his release, the patriarch was still so politically
radioactive Zhang’s grandmother reluctantly banished him from the family. Her
parents did not fare much better during the Cultural Revolution either. The
resulting guilt and shame have largely poisoned her mother’s relationship with Zhang.
the young woman never really understood those grandiose government campaigns
that profoundly disrupted her family, so with the help of a supportive cousin,
she will seek out eye witness accounts from family friends and other survivors.
Unfortunately, the government’s policy of denial will complicate her investigation
(as the Party intended). She even finds the only extant Red Guard cemetery in
Chongqing padlocked to visitors. Of course, life does not stand still for Zhang
during the nearly twenty years Torrens followed her. We also see her organizing
her neighbors in Chongqing’s historic district to stand-up to a real estate
developer’s strong-arm thugs. Regardless of the context, she is not inclined to
accept apathy, which makes the film quite inspiring, in a gritty, unsentimental
3Dreams probably could have been four
times longer without feeling draggy. It captures a heck of a lot of
contemporary Chinese cultural-social-political trends and explains how they
were caused by ideological spasms forty or fifty years ago. Of course, it is a
great help that Zhang is Torrens’ focal protagonist. She is refreshingly smart,
a highly engaging screen presence, and pretty darn gutsy, all things
also deserves credit for assiduously winning and justifying Zhang and company’s
trust. His access was definitely up-close-personal and often extremely
revealing. According to the post-screening Q&A, Torrens will only screen
the film in China under tightly controlled conditions, with all the
participants’ prior agreement. Frankly, with the Beijing International Film
Festival essentially in exile, there are virtual no venues to screen an
independent documentary like 3Dreams anyway.
Torrens adroitly uses the personal experiences of Zhang’s family and their
close contemporaries as a microcosm for China in its totality. However, Zhang
also consistently proves herself worthy of documentary treatment on an individual
level. The truth will not set her free, but it might ease her mind somewhat.
The audience will be rooting for her. Highly recommended, China’s 3Dreams screens again this Wednesday (6/8) at the Wythe
Hotel, as part of the Experiment Edition of the Brooklyn Film Festival.
Labels: Anti-Rightist Campaign, BFF '16, China, Cultural Revolution, Documentary