Sharing the Director’s Statement on “High Tech, Low Life” documentary

We have chosen the topic of Citizen Media for our MESYM Crossover Series #7 on July 31st, where we will be screening High Tech, Low Life, a documentary that follows the journey of two of China’s first citizen reporters as they travel the country chronicling under-reported news and social issues stories.

Below, I have copied the director’s statement on the film (taken from the electronic press kit available in the film’s website), to encourage our readers to know about the reasons this film came to be, in particular the censorship of media by the Chinese Government, and how these 2 ordinary people became bloggers to show that -as blogger Zola says in the film- “not all stories are happy stories”.

Film Director Stephen Maing

Film Director Stephen Maing

Director’s Statement

In 2006, there were roughly 110 million Internet users in China and the first official phase of China’s censorship barrier, commonly referred to as “The Great Firewall,” had been evolving for almost a decade and was finally completed. By 2008, the number jumped to 298 million users and rumors of young resourceful Chinese netizens circumventing the government’s censorship restrictions began circulating on the Internet. I wanted to make a film that explored the critical new intersection of youth, activism and technology but after getting to know Zola and Tiger Temple over the course of 4 years of filming, I realized their personal stories revealed a much different narrative about a startling new China that was also still reckoning with its painful Maoist past.

When I first met Zola, a young tech-savvy Chinese blogger from Hunan Province, it seemed as though a film about him could easily become a comedy. It was immediately apparent he had a uniquely entertaining way of expressing his individuality and progressive political views. But his story alone was not enough to contextualize the struggles he and other kinds of bloggers faced. After meeting the older and more lo-fi Tiger Temple, I was struck by his dramatically different style and background. Tiger Temple was a wandering writer and self-professed romantic that regularly biked across the mainland, profoundly haunted by the persecution he and his family endured during the Cultural Revolution. Despite a significant generational gap, what struck me was their mutual curiosity about the world, shared commitment to advancing freedom of speech in China, and at times very different approaches to these common goals. From 2008 to 2012, we were fortunate to follow these two individuals who had no set path or precedent to follow, but were writing their own narrative.

Chinese Blogger Zola

Chinese Blogger Zola

Chinese Blogger "Tiger Temple"

Chinese Blogger “Tiger Temple”

What they each do involves an art of engagement, self-reflection and circumvention that strives to challenge the status quo. Walking into new and difficult situations, embedding themselves with people and then finding creative ways to talk about things not being talked about – they attempt to do all this without polarizing the truth or portraying themselves as political dissidents. As a new director, working in a very unpredictable environment, I took many cues from their hard-earned experience.

I’m interested in character-driven stories that unfold slowly and reveal larger systemic and cultural complexities. Part of the film’s central question was how to tell an intimate story that presented the reality of censorship and perils of political dissidence in China through experiential observations, not expert interviews. Another challenge was how to intimately represent people that represent other people as well as themselves in their own work. I set out to film both their reporting trips but also everyday routines. Over long periods of filming, deep connections between their personal struggles and political personas began to emerge, echo between the two characters and bind their very different generational outlooks.

Film Gallery of Images

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