Documentary filmmaker Jialing Zhang, who was nominated for an Emmy for One Child Nation, spoke diversity about her latest film “Total Trust” which was selected in the main competition of CPH:DOX, the Copenhagen Intl. Documentary Film Festival.
It tells the chilling story of three women and their families fighting for their human rights in China, where state control is pervasive thanks to high-tech surveillance like facial recognition, big data analysis, and scoring systems, meaning citizens earn points depending on what they do or lose their behavior.
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Zhang’s intimate footage offers unprecedented access to the effects of this all-controlling system on the protagonists’ everyday lives.
“We didn’t just want to make a film about surveillance, but about the people who live in such a society. We wanted to achieve a certain emotional depth and complexity – to try to capture the anger, the horror, but also the hope through the resilience of our characters who continue to fight for human rights, freedom and security for themselves and their loved ones, and have been actually changed by the situation they’re in,” she says.
Zhang, who lives in the US and cannot return to China, where she is registered, after co-directing One Child Nation with Nanfu Wang in 2016, remotely directed the entire film. Due to travel restrictions, she already gained experience working remotely when she co-produced Wang’s “In the Same Breath” about the COVID-19 outbreak in China in 2020.
For Total Trust she worked with local activists on the ground. They received remote photography training from Zhang and her team in the United States. Strict communication protocols were put in place, including the use of encrypted messages that disappeared after 24 hours, nicknames and SIM-free phones that could not be tracked.
When asked about the film’s impact on the lives of the protagonists, Zhang said they all decided it was their responsibility to attend to raise awareness of both of their individual cases – one of the women’s husband is a human rights lawyer, who has been in prison since early 2020, and another is a journalist who speaks out against Xi Jinping’s government – but also about a surveillance system that is not just a Chinese problem.
“That’s what we want to achieve with this film: It’s not just about China. We want the audience to look at their own countries. This film is about the potential danger of technology in the hands of uncontrolled power and corporations.
“It’s about how technology can be used to suppress human rights and social control – and Western governments are increasingly using data to monitor their own citizens,” she says, citing recent concerns surrounding the US Supreme Court decision to undo these Roe vs. Wade that data collected by period tracking apps could potentially be used to punish women who seek abortions.
The film not only addresses the question of state surveillance, but also the implicit threat of self-censorship as a result of generations of state control.
“The police live in your head,” Zhang says, “because this heightened surveillance is everywhere — on your phone, on your computer, when you’re texting your family. You always think twice before posting anything on WeChat. Having your account suspended causes such inconvenience because you use it for everything from communicating to making payments.”
“Total Trust” also includes several clips from government propaganda films, which Zhang describes as increasingly well-made. “The storytelling is so good, it’s not just black and white — often you don’t realize you’re being brainwashed, it’s much more polished and nuanced than before.”
The film’s title itself is directly inspired by a quote from a government official who claims that public trust in the government hit 98% at the height of the pandemic.
“98%, that’s almost absolute confidence,” Zhang smiles. “What about the other 2%? It’s so ironic – it’s not true. Because of propaganda and censorship, we don’t hear their voices.
“In China, they don’t exist online – their existence is erased – they don’t appear in the media, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. There are many young people with critical thinking and access to information,” says Zhang.
Total Trust is produced by German Filmtank in co-production with Witfilm, Interactive Media Foundation, ZDF/ARTE and NTR in association with BBC Storyville and SVT. It is funded by Eurimages, MOIN Filmfonds Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein, MFG Baden-Württemberg, the Netherlands Film Fund and the CoBo Fund, with support from Chicken & Egg Pictures.
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The film celebrates its world premiere on March 21 at CPH:DOX. The festival runs until March 26 in Copenhagen.
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Source : www.yahoo.com