Straight From China: Stanley Nelson Blogs About His Experience Screening FREEDOM RIDERS in BeijingStanley Nelson is screening FREEDOM RIDERS throughout China for two weeks. The tour is sponsored by Film Forward, an initiative of the Sundance Institute. Below is his blog entry:
I didn't know quite what to expect as the plane approached Beijing. I had been there 16 years ago but I heard the city had changed a great deal since 1996. There was no way that I could have anticipated the massive changes that have occurred. One of the first things that struck me was that there are cars everywhere and smog to go with it. Our hotel is more modern then any hotel I had seen in the States. American and European stores are all over and the people are very, very fashion conscious. When I remarked to a Chinese person about the changes they replied "Oh you must have been here when it was still 'the time of the bicycles.' "
In Beijing I did double duty working with the Documentary Program at CNEX, and with the Film Forward program. At CNEX we worked with 11 Chinese filmmakers who were selected based on the strength of their documentary projects. For three days we worked with the filmmakers in groups and individually to help them sharpen their ideas and to better both their proposals and the cuts of their films. It was inspiring for me as a filmmaker to see the wide range of projects that they are working on and the quality of their productions. It was three extremely long and tiring but rewarding days.
I had two screenings of Freedom Riders for the Film Forward program in Beijing, the first at Tsinghua University and the second at the Beijing Film Academy. Going into the screenings I was a little apprehensive, I did not know what to expect. Freedom Riders is about the beginnings of the civil rights movement in the United States and there are some cultural references that I knew the Chinese audience might not get. I wondered if that would ruin the impact of the film. I was surprised after the first screening when the very first questioner raised their hand and asked a question about Ex-Governor of Alabama John Patterson, this is always the first question we get in the States. After that, I knew I was OK. Probably the hardest question was "Why was there racial segregation in the USA?" I did my best with this one. I was surprised that there was also a lot of talk about how the freedom rides has so much relevance in today’s China. And can a non-violent movement work today? The second screening was packed and also had a great and stimulating question and answer period.
It is incredible to travel with the film and to see it with audiences in China. To see how they understand Freedom Riders and to laugh along with the film, and to see the audiences here be inspired by the film, is an amazing experience. I am looking forward to the screenings of the film in the next two cities on our trip.