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Screen Space Review: FREE CHINA: THE COURAGE TO BELIEVE

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screen-space.squarespace.com/reviews/2013/11/2/free-china-the-courage-to-believe.html

FREE CHINA: THE COURAGE TO BELIEVE

Featuring: Jennifer Zeng, Dr Charles Lee, Hon. David Kilgour, Rep. Chris Smith and Ethan Gutmann.
Director: Michael Perlman.

Rating: 4/5

A compelling, deeply moving advocacy piece, director Michael Perlman adds Free China: The Courage to Believe, his account of the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China, to an impressive list of expertly crafted, humanistic factual films.

Since his 2003 debut Eyes of the World, in which he chronicled multicultural discourse in The Balkans, Perlman has brought a compassionate, singularly human focus to such broad global issues as society''s diminishing regard for the elderly (63 Years Like Yesterday, 2004) and the treatment of Buddhist clergy by Chinese officialdom (Tibet: Beyond Fear, 2008).

Perlman stays on mainland China for his latest, which recounts the tale of two upstanding Chinese nationals who suffered through torture and imprisonment for following the meditative, qigong-like principles of Falun Gong (or Falun Dafa) teachings. The practice is a morality-based, socially-conscious life-choice that stemmed from Taoist and Buddhist elements; it was hugely popular amongst the Chinese people, with close to 10 million followers at the height of its popularity, and fully supported by the Communist regime.

However, in 1999, the notion that Falun Gong was giving strength and unity to the people began to disturb the Communist Party heads and the practice was outlawed, much to the dismay and growing resentment of its followers. The government were brutal in their policing of the new laws and it is thought that hundreds of thousand of Falun Gong believers were victims of horrible human rights violations.

Jennifer Zeng was a 21 year-old Communist party member with a newborn daughter when she was imprisoned for expressing her opinions; Dr Charles Lee had migrated to the US but returned to China to fight for the rights of his people. By chronologically tracking their heartbreaking accounts of abuse, internment, forced labour (Lee recalls long days making Homer Simpson slippers for the American market) and separation from loved ones, Perlman paints a larger, disturbing picture of illegal government actions against their own people and the control mechanisms employed (most notably, internet censorship; most graphically, human organ trafficking) to quell individual thought.

Although Perlman applies journalistic objectivity in the presentation of his well-researched facts and footage, there is never any doubting that Free China: The Courage to Believe is a rousing call-to-arms, a demand that the international community take the same fearless approach that Zeng and Lee did in defiance of Chinese human rights atrocities. The memory of Nazi Germany’s concentration camps and more recent shameful displays of power such as the Tiananmen Square massacre are invoked in Perlman’s imagery and narrative; more impactful, however, is the soaring sense of dignity and willpower his two subjects and his film displays. 

Further information regarding the film, including its Australian screening schedule, can be found at their website.

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