At the Guardian, Tania Branigan interviews Hu Jie, director of many startling documentaries that reveal the untold stories of China’s 1950s and 1960s social reform campaigns, such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. His latest film, Spark, tells the story of students who published an underground newspaper criticizing the government during the Great Famine of the 1950s.
The subjects Hu tackles are so sensitive that some of those involved have not discussed them even with their families. He has persuaded a remarkable range of witnesses to go on camera; some are grateful for the chance to talk after years of suppressing the truth.
“I’m trying to save all of this material. If these people die, the memories are gone,” Hu said.
But some simply refuse to talk, and one of the interviews in Spark stops abruptly when the interviewee receives a phone call warning him not to speak. Such challenges help to explain why the film was five years in the making.
“I don’t start with a preconception of these films,” Hu said. “It’s a discovery process for me. I’ve always known there’s something there, but not quite what it was. In the process of making these films I find out.
“I knew there was a publication, but didn’t know what it was about; I just knew people died for it.
Earlier this year Hu was profiled by Matthew Bell for Public Radio International’s program The World.