Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Hu Jie’s Spark on DVD

Real journalists do not echo each other. They report the stories other won’t. There were not many who fit this description during Mao’s reign of terror, but there was one journal that accurately reported the world as it truly was. Its print runs totaled somewhere around the twenty-copy range—as in two-zero—but that was still more than sufficient for the Communist Party to crack-down hard on its editorial staff. Their remarkable stories of dissent are documented in Hu Jie’s Spark, which releases today with Rita Andreetti’s documentary-profile The Observer on DVD, from Icarus Films and dGenerate Films.

The four primary writer-editors were all students, mostly from different cities, who had been labeled “Rightists” during the last bout of state-sanctioned insanity. Therefore, they were all highly vulnerable to whatever punitive measures the Party might unleash, but they were not planning to hand out Spark on street corners. They envisioned sending it to an elite, enlightened few within the Party bureaucracy, who might be in a position to foster reform. Alas, their naivety contributed to their sad fate.

Spark really did start with misplaced faith in senior Party officialdom. Shocked by the bodies literally piling up in the streets as a result of famine induced by the Great Leap Forward, the Spark core group assumed their local officials were merely applying national policy in an incompetent manner. However, as they ventured to other provinces and made contacts, they discovered the situation was just as dire everywhere else. Nevertheless, the Party and its flunkies insisted there was nothing wrong. Spark put this in print and they paid a fearful price. They were not alone though. The sympathetic local headman and suspected “Rightist” Du Yinghua, a Party member since before 1949, was also fatally purged.

The story of Spark is truly bombshell material, but Hu, China’s underground Claude Lanzmann, makes no concessions to style. He establishes the facts in a painstakingly exhaustive fashion. Yet there are individual scenes that make your hair stand on end. We see live-on-tape as one of Hu’s interviews is cut short by a call from the local Party bosses. We also hear surviving Spark staffer Xiang Chengjian admit he thought he was essentially sacrificing his life for the sake of the truth.

Hu demonstrates how dangerous it is to preserve history when you live under a tyrannical regime. Yet, he has made it his calling with films like Spark and the more accessible and grabbier Though I Am Gone. Of course, his work is all connected, chronicling interrelated historical incidents. It is so frightening to the CCP authorities, they have shut down film festivals (as seen in Andreetti’s documentary) to prevent the screening of his work. For free thinkers, that that constitutes a heck of a persuasive endorsement. Very highly recommended, Spark and The Observer release today (6/30) on DVD.