Stories like these only exist in the distant past—or do they? A quiet, unassuming man or woman seems just like us, but when faced with evil, extraordinary abilities are revealed and a legend lives through the ages. In the film Free China: The Courage to Believe, true stories tell of heart-wrenching compromises and awe-inspiring strength of character, and its end is not yet written.
In the 1990’s, Dr. Charles Lee, originally from China, was living in the US as an American citizen and Jennifer Zeng lived in China, a proud mother and communist party member. Both began practicing Falun Gong, the ancient Chinese spiritual practice that adheres to truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. When, in 1999, the communist regime outlawed the practice and dragged loyal practitioners into labour camps, Zeng and Lee were thrust into excruciating darkness, and faced abhorrent choices. Now living outside China with their families, both have joined the peaceful efforts to bring human rights to their homeland. Free China sheds light on the current plight of the Chinese people and reminds us that heroes of yore are still made today.
Michael Perlman, who directed Free China, drew on his experience directing Tibet: Beyond Fear, an award-winning film that followed a Tibetan Buddhist monk and nun in their struggle for respect, freedom and inner peace amid violence.
Kean Wong, Free China’s executive producer and driving force, met Perlman by chance in Manhattan one evening in 2010. Wong was a television show host and producer for NTD Television, working to revive traditional Chinese culture and provide independent Chinese news coverage. Perlman, well-acquainted with Tibetans’ peaceful efforts for freedom, was mostly in the dark about China’s.
“We had this instant connection,” Wong recalls about meeting Perlman. “I said to him ‘If you want to help free Tibet, you need to first help free China.’ And Michael said ‘That’s exactly what I’ve been saying.’” Wong knew the perfect documentary subjects, Zeng and Lee, who continually and devotedly recount their stories to shed light on the atrocities behind today’s Great Wall. And what stories. The makings of a socially-immediate, award-winning film had been found. “We shook hands excitedly and said ‘Let’s make a film called Free China.’” Eighteen months later, their film swept the independent awards circuit.
Free China took home Best Feature Film at the IX International Short Film Festival in Peru, “Best of the Fest” International Freethought Film Festival in Denver, CO, Winner at American Insight’s Free Speech International Film Festival in Philadelphia, the top award for International Political and Cultural Documentaries at the L.A. Awareness Film Festival in West Hollywood, the top award for documentaries under 60 minutes at the 45th Worldfest Houston International Film Festival, became “Offical Selection” at a half dozen other festivals and was nominated for the “Best Soundtrack Album” at the Hollywood Music in Media Awards 2012.
“We’re all very honored and proud of our team’s efforts, in particular, Tony Chen, who composed an incredibly inspiring and moving score,” Wong said, and he’s clearly not the only one who thinks so. Free China’s nomination for “Best Soundtrack Album” at the Music in Media Awards placed it alongside big-budget films like Twilight and powerful production houses like Sony Classical. “We were up there against them with this little shoestring budget,” Wong says. It’s a relief to know that heart and conviction, not only budget, can bring motion pictures to the forefront.
Free China will be released online worldwide and opens in Canadian theaters in June, 2013. Visit www.freechinamovie.com for more information.