The NY Review of Books blog has an interview with Chinese artist and filmmaker Hu Jie, “one of his country’s most noteworthy filmmakers,” according to the NYRB. Hu’s arresting films, paintings, and woodblock prints focus on the human tragedy of the Great Famine and Cultural Revolution. Unsurprisingly, none of his works have been shown publicly in China. In the interview, Hu discusses the challenges of making documentary films about historical crimes that the Chinese government would rather forget:
How difficult has it been to work as a documentary filmmaker?
I never take money from anyone, especially not from overseas. I win some money from awards. The police are very clear on this. Don’t take others’ money. But the police know everything. They know your every move. They call me and say “Teacher Hu, where are you going? We can drive you there.” They sometimes call ahead and tell people not to meet me.
How do feel about your films not being shown in China? Is there any point if Chinese audiences can’t see them?
There is, because if you don’t go record it, these people will die and no one will know their stories. No one will ever know their stories. The government definitely won’t tell their stories, so if people don’t go do it, these people will die out and their stories will die. For example, over a dozen important people I filmed for the Lin Zhao story have already died.
The other point is that during this bitter era, this violent era, this most terrifying era, people still tried to reflect on what was happening. They weren’t afraid to die. They died in secret, and we of succeeding generations don’t know what heroes they were. I think it’s a matter of morality. They died for us. If we don’t know this, it is a tragedy.
Image: Hu Jie in his studio in Nanjing, 2015. Sim Chi Yin/VII. Via NYRblog.