China: The Rebirth of an Empire (USA, 1 hr 26 min 16 sec)
Directed by: Jesse Veverka
Chalmers Johnson, Freddy Lim, Jeremy Veverka, Rebiya Kadeer, Wei Jingsheng
China's unprecedented growth has placed it on the verge of overtaking the United States as the world's preeminent power. Meanwhile, Chalmers Johnson, author of 'Blowback' and 'The Sorrows of Empire', argues that America's preoccupation with militarism has all but sealed its fate as a nation in long-term decline. But if China surpasses the United States, what type of power will it become? In today's interconnected and globalized world, the answer effects each and every one of us. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, China's humanitarian activities and investment in infrastructure have won it the hearts and minds of the people. Yet in Tibet and Xinjiang, China is reviled as an imperialistic abuser of human rights. Despite trumpeting its vision of a ethnic unity at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government has gone to great lengths to silence dissenting voices such as Rebiya Kadeer, de facto leader of the Uyghur people. Kadeer has replaced the Dalai Lama as Beijing's number one public adversary. Will China follow in the footsteps of history's other great powers and use its strength to dominate its neighbors, trample ethnic and religious minorities, and become a 21st century empire? Or will a wealthy China's youth lead the country towards democracy, much like Taiwan? The international community shares responsibility in this outcome, but is it too dependent on Chinese trade to care? Whether it's a peaceful rise or potential threat, China's 21st century emergence as a great world power will change the lives of everyone.
Review by Lavanya Sunkara The film gives glimpses of the ways in which the communist government treats the indigenous, the minority and anyone it deems a threat. Shot in nine countries and tackling issues ranging from Islamic fundamentalism to free trade, the film provides a fascinating look at the impact the resource hungry China has on its neighbors. In both Pakistan and Afghanistan, China has been investing in infrastructure and aiding the humanitarian efforts and winning support, while being an abuser of human rights in Tibet and Muslim populated Xinjiang. Nothing is done without an ulterior motive- of Hegemony. In today's interconnected world, China's unprecedented growth and actions affect all of us, and the film offers an opportunity to gain awareness and to view the world differently. Both the Veverka brothers, originally from Ithaca and graduates of Cornell University, have traveled to high risk locations as Afghanistan, Pakistan, among other Chinese neighbors to film and interview experts, activists, authors, volunteers and locals to provide an investigative analysis and firsthand accounts of China's influence.
Interview by Lavanya Sunkara
LS: What made you and your brother, as filmmakers, to take interest in China?
JV: I think it's the biggest topic of our generation. We are talking about a real crossroads of history - the end of centuries of a Euro-centric world power structure as a result of the economic rise of Asia, and especially China. The results will affect nearly everyone on the planet.
LS: When did you start the process for the film- research, traveling to these countries, etc? How did you prepare? How long did it take to make it?
JV: We really started researching the topic in 2003, with our first trip to China. I think both of us were struck not only by China's economic success, but also by the obvious geo-political implications. We each made several additional trips to Asia afterward and these along with my training in economics and our interest in Asian studies formed the basis of our research. It worked out well because while I have focused on East Asia, Jeremy has focused on South Asia, and both regions are important in the film. We began working on the film in early 2008 and began principal photography in March of 2008. We completed the film a little over two years later.
LS: How did you raise money to fund the film?
JV: Although we funded most of the film ourselves, Cornell University's East Asia Program played a vital role in the film's production by becoming one of the first organizations to offer outside funding, with monies coming in part from its Lee Tung Hui endowment. Additional sources of funding included Cornell's South Asia program, Cornell alumni, individual donors, and the Lucius and Eva Eastman Fund.
LS: Did you get any opposition from any groups from China during the making of the film and its promotion afterwards, and if so in what form?
JV: We tried to get an interview with the Chinese Consulate General in New York, but they refused to speak with us because we had already interviewed Rebiya Kadeer, a prominent Uyghur businesswoman and political activist from Xinjiang. We have not yet tried to release the film in China.
LS: Are there any special memories from your journeys to any of these countries you'd like to share with readers/viewers?
JV: It was mostly amazing, but there were some very hard parts as well. I believe the toughest for us was witnessing the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul by militants suspected to have been backed by Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence. Many of the wounded were treated at a nearby Chinese built hospital and yet despite it's huge presence in Afghanistan, America did nothing to help in the immediate aftermath. Here in this horrendous instant we saw all the complexities of modern geo-politics play out in human tragedy.
LS: What would you most like for people to take away from the film?
JV: I want people to really be able to think independently about the world around them. Trade, economics, politics and militarism are all connected on a global scale and they affect the daily realities of our lives. I think there is so much information overload and pop-culture distraction out there that people have a hard time focusing on what will actually affect their future in the long term. I hope this film will get people thinking about new topics, even if some of them are uncomfortable to face.
LS: What made you choose film-making as your career?
JV: I have always been fascinated with images, writing, music, emotion, travel and business - filmmaking is the amalgam of these.
LS: What are your aspirations, both in your film career and in making a difference?
JV: I want to continue making films and be commercially successful at doing so. That means creating films that sell. But at the same time, I want to work on topics that I believe really matter to everyone and yet are often ignored or downplayed. For me making a difference is not about spreading a message, but rather challenging the way people think.
LS: What are some of the projects/films you are working on now?
JV: Our newest projects focus on India - the other rising star on the world stage. This spring we finished a documentary short called "Malana: Globalization of a Himalayan Village" that focuses on the changes that globalization is bringing to a traditionally isolated village in India. Malana will be playing at next month's Globians Doc Fest is Stuttgart, Germany. We are in post-production on a narrative short called "Bus To Somewhere" that takes place in Goa, India and is about an European expat who has gotten mentally and physically stuck there. We are also in production on a documentary about the Maoist insurgency in Chhattisgarh, set in the heart of India.
LS: Will you be attending the film festival?
JV: Yes, Jeremy and I will both be attending the festival and will be available for Q&A there.