Talks with Documentary Filmmaker Jialing Zhang, Who Was Nominated for an Emmy for “One Child Nation” Diversity About his latest film, “Total Trust”, which is running in main competition at CPH:DOX, Copenhagen International. Documentary Festival.
It tells the harrowing story of three women and their families fighting for their human rights in China, where state control is ubiquitous thanks to high technology surveillance, such as facial recognition, big data analysis and point systems that mean citizens Points are gained or lost. Behaviour.
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Zhang's intimate footage provides unprecedented access to the impact of this all-controlling system on the daily lives of the protagonists.
“We wanted to do a film not just about surveillance, but about the people living in this kind of society. We wanted to reach a certain emotional depth and complexity—the anger, the fear, but also through the resilience of our characters.” Also trying to understand the ASHAs, who continue to fight for human rights, freedom and security, for themselves and their loved ones, and are truly changed by the situation they find themselves in,” she says .
Zhang, who is based in the US and cannot return to China after co-directing “One Child Nation” with Nanfu Wang in 2016, where he is on police records, directed the entire film remotely. He had already gained experience working remotely due to travel restrictions when co-producing Wang's “In the Same Breath” in 2020 about the COVID-19 outbreak in China.
For “Total Trust” he worked with local activists at the grassroots level. He was given remote training on how to shoot by Zhang and his team in the US. Strict communication protocols were established, including the use of encrypted messages that disappear after 24 hours, aliases, and SIM-free phones that cannot be tracked.
When asked about the impact of the film on the lives of the protagonists, Zhang said that they had all decided they would participate to raise awareness about their personal cases – the husband of one of the women is a human rights lawyer. 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 isn't just a Chinese problem.
“That's something we hope to get across through this film as well: It's not just about China. We want viewers to see their own countries. The film is about unchecked power and the potential of technology in the hands of corporations.” It's about danger.
“It is about how technology can be used for human rights suppression and social control – and Western governments are increasingly using data to monitor their own citizens,” she says. Citing recent concerns in the wake of the US Supreme Court's overturning decision in Roe v. Wade that data collected from period-tracking apps could potentially be used to punish women seeking abortions.
The film not only addresses the question of state surveillance, but also the silent threat of self-censorship resulting from generations of state control.
“The police are on your mind,” Zhang says, “because this heightened surveillance is everywhere – on your phone, on your computer, when you message your family. You always think twice before posting something on WeChat. Having your account blocked is such an 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 being increasingly well-crafted. “Storytelling is great, it's not just black and white – a lot of times, you don't realize you're being brainwashed, it's a lot more sophisticated and nuanced than you think.”
The film's title is directly inspired by a quote from a government official who claimed that public trust in the government had reached 98% at the peak of the pandemic.
“98%, it's almost absolute confidence,” smiles Zhang. “What about the remaining 2%? It's so ironic – it's not true. Because of propaganda and censorship, we can't hear their voices.
“In China, they don't exist online – their existence has been erased – they don't appear in the media, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. There are a lot of young people who are critical thinkers, and who have access to information. is,” Zhang says.
“Total Trust” is produced by Germany's Filmtank in association with BBC Storyville and SVT in co-production with Witfilm, Interactive Media Foundation, ZDF/ARTE and NTR. It is funded by Eurimages, the MOIN Film Fund Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein, the MfG Baden-Württemberg, the Netherlands Film Fund and the Kobo Fund, in association with Chicken & Egg Pictures.
Cinefil is handling world sales.
The film will have its world premiere on March 21 at CPH:DOX. The festival will run till March 26 in Copenhagen.
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