Nanfu Wang tackles China’s one child policy.
Dissident Chinese director Nanfu Wang, who broke out internationally with her debut feature Hooligan Sparrow, is preparing a new documentary exposing the social injustices caused by China’s one child policy. The New York-based filmmaker will pitch the project, entitled Born in China, at IDFA’s Forum co-financing event, which kicks off on Monday.
First introduced in 1979 to bring down China’s birth rate, the policy started being phased out in 2015 as it became apparent the country’s ageing population posed a new challenge all its own. “I was born in China in 1985, when the policy was in full swing, so like most of my peers I grew up an only child”, comments Wang. “What is striking is that, although China has since introduced a two child policy – which is also a form of control – people still think one child is best, for the country and the economy,” she continues. “After 35 years of the policy, people have changed due to a lot of propaganda and brainwashing.”
The documentary will focus on the social injustices committed to enforce the policy, ranging from forced abortions to the confiscation of second children, who were sent overseas via international adoption programmes.
Spanning China and the US, the subjects will include women who were forced to give up their offspring, as well as family planning officials who implemented the policy. In the US, Wang has tracked down families who adopted Chinese children, wrongly believing them to be orphans. “Their children are now teenagers, aged 12 to 18 years. Having finally understood what was really going on, these adoptive parents and the children face an ethical dilemma, knowing that they have participated in this huge scandal.”
An added personal layer to the project for Wang is that she has just given birth to her first child. “I was filming throughout my pregnancy. As a Chinese person and a mother, I can’t imagine being in the position of those women who lost their children. This film is about justice for those women.”
Filming has begun in both countries. A close collaborator is handling the China shoot as Wang is not certain whether it is safe for her to return home to China after Hooligan Sparrow. The work, capturing state harassment of human rights activist Ye Haiyan after she sought justice for six young rape victims, also put Wang on the radar of China’s state surveillance apparatus.
Born in China is already 40% shot and is being lead produced by Christoph Jörg at Paris-based Pumpernickel Films. Oscar-nominated and Emmy Award-winning producer and executive producer Julie Goldman at New York-based Motto Pictures is on board as a co-producer. Chicken & Egg Pictures and IDA have joined as financiers.
Wang is also at IDFA for screenings of her second feature I Am Another You, about a young American drifter called Dylan who caught her attention when she first arrived in the US. “I thought he was a unique, articulate, smart character, unlike anyone I’d ever met before. None of my New York friends could see what I saw. “I understand now it was because I had just come from China, where there is a certain romanticism around the idea of homelessness. He was a symbol of American freedom to me because he willingly chose to live on the streets … I am not sure I would be attracted to someone like Dylan now. I‘ve lost those eyes of the newcomer.”
Like Hooligan Sparrow, which made it to the Oscar documentary shortlist, I Am Another You has been submitted to the Academy Awards this year.