It is ironic that the Chinese delegation has refused to travel to Sheffield Doc/Fest in Europe over the inclusion of a film that shows a Chinese blogger being refused permission to travel to Europe himself.
The documentary in question is High Tech, Low Life by Stephen Maing, which is a fascinating study of how, using modern technology, a new wave of “citizen reporters” across China are endeavouring to tell the truth about the downside of China’s financial revolution. The film follows two different bloggers, with two very contrasting styles, both of whom seem to have become almost accidental seekers of the truth.
High Tech, Low Life is a deeply personal and moving film that, while discussing the political issues in contemporary China, shows us the human side of attempting to bring the truth to a wider audience. Citizen reporter Tiger explains that it is best for him to of keep his family at a distance so that they won’t be affected by any difficult repercussions. Cycling through China, Tiger documents how many farmers have been left behind in the country’s move from agriculture to industrial.
Some of the tricks he uses to avoid censorship are at first glance rather farcical. Often blogging from his cat Mongolia’s point of view he explains how he hoped “that they would not censor a talking cat” – and they didn’t. Throughout the film I felt as if the attempts at censorship were the political equivalent of stickling your finger in the dyke. As Tiger says: “Last year we could talk about X not Y, this year we can talk about Y. Next year we can only talk about Z.”
Initially Zola, the much younger of the two protagonists, seems much more interested in personal fame than Tiger, but all is forgiven as he says: “Being selfish is the first step to conquering the communist mind set.” Despite this my heart broke, as the repercussions of his actions seemed to gradually dawn on him. What initially feels like game becomes gradually more sinister as the film progresses.
This illuminating film shows how lucky we are to have a free press and how in contemporary China the distinction between a journalist and a blogger is a very blurred one.
In fact, as I write this review, next to my bag with Sheffield’s “The Truth is In Here” written on it, I feel both rather guilty and relieved that I am doing so without having to check for the presence of the police watching my every move.
High Tech, Low Life is a beautiful, sensitive and illuminating film that I urge anybody who is interested in the changes in contemporary China to go and see.
For more information on screenings and times please visit the film’s website.
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