Film Scouts Interviews

"The Gate of Heavenly Peace" Press Conference
at the 1995 New York Film Festival

by Henri Béhar
October 12, 1995 QUESTION: Have Chinese officials, citizens, or exiles, seen your film?

CARMA HINTON: No one has. We finished it two days ago. It's the first time I see it in this form, projected on a big screen.

QUESTION: Why aren't the interviews specifically dated?

CARMA HINTON: There's already so much on the screen, and so much of it that seemed more important. The interviews were done over a period of two years and the interviewees have remained pretty consistent in their views.

RICHARD GORDON: Maybe in the CD-ROM version?

QUESTION: You have unearthed old footage from the May 4, 1919 students' revolt and the Oct. 1, 1949's proclamation of the People's Republic of China by Mao Zedong--the sort of footage that's usually kept in government safes. The visual documents you have for the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations come in all shapes and forms. How did you get them?

RICHARD GORDON: A nod should be given here to the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and such entities as the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. It is incredibly difficult to set up such funding programs, and due to cut-backs, they'll be practically impossible to mount in any near future. A lot of the 1989 footage comes from home videos done by Taiwanese, American students, etc, and from network TV--name one network, we knocked on their door. As for CNN, their man in Beijing demanded to be the on-camera host, with trenchcoat and all... It took us two years.

QUESTION: Any threat of political prosecution for the people who participate in the film, or their families?

CARMA HINTON: Some of them are here in the States, so they're safe. Those that have remained in China have been very outspoken; they have expressed their opinions ON record in China, which is very courageous. They know they're on record.

RICHARD GORDON: That's why this type of film is so long, and so difficult to make. Some of the interviewees asked to be removed from the film, not to endanger their families, which we understood perfectly, and we complied. Others, we'd done in silhouette, but it didn't feel right, so we removed them too..

QUESTION: One of the figureheads of the Tiananmen Square students' occupation, Chai Ling, is not in the film. Yet she lives in Boston. Did she turn you down, and if so, why?

CARMA HINTON: She doesn't believe documentaries can give the truth. We contacted her several times, we explained we wanted to give room to different voices from the Students' movement. We also told her several people had expressed their opinions about her--some positive, some negative--and that HER version of what happened might help. She still refused, even when approached by academics we'd asked to act as our ambassadors.

QUESTION: Perhaps she's protecting relatives in China?

CARMA HINTON: That would be understandable, but she sent an open letter to Hillary Clinton, she continues to talk to other filmmakers and journalists...

RICHARD GORDON: I'm probably more naive than Carma on Chinese politics, but I found Chai Ling surprisingly hostile to any examination of her role in the events. She's come up with statements sustaining that we had aligned with the New York Times and the Chinese government in some sort of conspiracy.

CARMA HINTON: She showed great courage in fighting what she thought injustice, but I also think that she was rather intolerant of different views. And if you're fighting for democracy, if you want a democratic society, you cannot use the same methods as the Communist Party to advance China's society. So that although a lot of people see the problem, many actually carry the kind of political habit that they fought as well. So on that level, I think Chinese democracy will have to mature, and that will take a lot of time to develop and for them to be more distinguished in their methods, their ways of thinking and their tolerance about different opinions. Until that problem is solved, we won't see a whole lot of difference, even if one set of people take over the power in China rather than another set.

QUESTION: You also seem to show Chai Ling had a lot of control on the student movement, which perhaps was not quite the case.

CARMA HINTON: In terms of whether Chai Ling had control over the students' movement, our film has not intended to show that they had control. In fact, I thought the film showed that they DON'T have control. They went out and protested and spoke their minds--and the movement, therefore, had its own dynamics. The only control they had was on their own opinions, and in that sense, people all played a role in the movement, whatever role they played. (...) Everybody who voted made a decision.

QUESTION: The film shows more the innerworkings of the student movement, but perhaps does not provide enough insight, or examination, of how decisions were made in the Government, particularly on the Reformist side.

RICHARD GORDON: We've spent years, literally, gathering material, doing interviews, doing research; we read everything we could find on the subject, but it is very difficult to penetrate the inner recesses of the Communist party. There are many rumors, and many stories that we heard, but no one will talk on the record. And even if you could find some people that will, it wouldn't be easy to verify that they know what they're talking about.

CARMA HINTON: Officials did not want to be interviewed, although they might talk to us privately. In a film like this, where no one in or around the Government is willing to go on record, we can only show the deeds that they have done: the open press conferences, the announcements, the arrests, and the footage of the killings. That's the only thing we have available. Exactly who said what during which meeting and with whom is really beyond us. It may be for another film, maybe ten years from now, if due to some turn of event, things can be reevaluated and documents released...

About the filmmakers, CARMA HINTON and RICHARD GORDON

Born in China to American parents, director-producer- interviewer CARMA HINTON was raised and educated there she moved to the United States in 1971: Chinese is her first language and culture. She received a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and is a Ph.D. candidate in art history at Harvard. An academic who taught at Swarthmore, Middlebury and Wellesley Colleges, she has, for her work in films, received a Rockefeller Intercultural Film/Video Fellowship in 1988.

That same year, director-producer-cameraman RICHARD GORDON, too, was awarded the Rockefeller Fellowship; he'd also been given a Guggenheim Fellowship two years before. As producer and cinematographer, he has been involved with numerous projects in china, he's worked for the National Geographic, the National Film Board of Canada, followed Luciano Pavarotti in China, and contributed to the PBS series "China in Revolution".

Together, Carma Hinton and Richard Gordon have directed no less than seven films in China, including the "One Village in China" trilogy that was broadcast both nationally and internationally, and received more than twenty awards at various film festivals, including a George Foster Peabody Broadcasting Award.

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