The first of today’s three Sundance doc profiles: From China/USA, HOOLIGAN SPARROW, Nanfu Wang’s portrait of Chinese human rights activism.
World Cinema Documentary Competition
Sundance Program Description:
The danger is palpable as intrepid young filmmaker Nanfu Wang follows maverick activist Ye Haiyan (aka Hooligan Sparrow) and her band of colleagues to Hainan Province in southern China to protest the case of six elementary school girls who were sexually abused by their principal. Marked as enemies of the state, the activists are under constant government surveillance and face interrogation, harassment, and imprisonment. Sparrow, who gained notoriety with her advocacy work for sex workers’ rights, continues to champion girls’ and women’s rights and arms herself with the power and reach of social media.
Filmmaker Wang becomes a target along with Sparrow, as she faces destroyed cameras and intimidation. Yet she bravely and tenaciously keeps shooting, guerrilla-style, with secret recording devices and hidden-camera glasses, and in the process, she exposes a startling number of undercover security agents on the streets. Eventually, through smuggling footage out of the country, Wang is able tell the story of her journey with the extraordinary revolutionary Sparrow, her fellow activists, and their seemingly impossible battle for human rights.
Director/Producer/Editor: Nanfu Wang
The NYC-based, Chinese-born Wang makes her documentary feature debut with this project, which has received support from the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program.
Associate Producer: Michael Shade; Creative Producer: Peter Lucas
Shade’s past credits include work for Al Jazeera, HBO, and MSNBC, while Lucas is a past Guggenheim Fellow for his documentary short projects.
Executive Producers: Andrew Cohen and Alison Klayman
Klayman is a Sundance alumna as the director/producer of the special jury prize-winning AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY (2012). Cohen served as an executive producer for that film, and has also written and directed a series of short profiles of contemporary Chinese artists Yan Pei-Ming, Zhan Wang, Fang Lijun, Liu Xiaodong, Li Xianting, Ma Desheng, Wang Guangyi, and Yu Hong, and Tibetan artist Kesang Lamdark.
Why You Should Watch:
Wang’s experience filming in a restrictive environment is conveyed with immediacy for the audience, placing them directly in the line of the very real danger courageous activists like Sparrow face. At the same time, Sparrow’s warmth, humor, and relationship with her daughter allow the filmmaker to present a deeply human side to this sensational figure.
For Sundance screening dates and times, click the link in the first paragraph.
To experience the festival through the eyes of this year’s filmmakers, follow my Sundance filmmaker class of 2016 Twitter list.