All Eyes and Ears

We're back on the road!

We're back on the road again with a great line-up of fall and winter festivals!

By "we" I mean our film team which includes many terrific people like Magela CrosignaniLaura HudockDaron MurphyGeralyn White DreyfousTed HopeDoug BlushMichael TaylorFred KoschmannJean TsienPaul Frost, and more here: the process of making this film, Ted and I moved 3 times from NY to SF to LA and found wonderful new team members everywhere we went.

ALL EYES AND EARS seeks to illuminate the delicate, intersecting layers of history, ideology and politics at play behind current diplomatic maneuvers in the US relationship with China. It was a gift to be able to investigate and explore these issues of how and why we prioritize security, economics or human rights and in such a systemic way examining the decades since Nixon and Kissinger’s normalization of the relationship.

In the middle of a U.S. presidential campaign year, we’re acutely aware of the tremendous cynicism and disillusionment American citizens have toward their government. Cynicism and disillusionment toward government exists in China too of course. For those on the frontlines of the relationship however, like U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, his adopted Chinese daughter, Gracie Mei, and blind legal advocate Chen Guangcheng not finding purpose, identity and resolve amid the two nations’ evolving relationship is not an option.

Ambassador Huntsman after his time in China contending with achieving diplomatic goals in balance with the two countries’ interests in national security and economic growth, makes a run for president, demonstrating the importance of "getting our own house in order" if we want to emphasize the value and necessity of human rights and democracy on a global scale. Teenager Gracie gathers a more intimate understanding of her own cross-cultural identity and voice in this complex foreign policy driven world. Meanwhile, Chen Guangcheng’s journey — from being under house arrest to his highly publicized asylum at the U.S. Embassy — highlights the legal advocate's thoughts on China’s ambitions as an emergent world power and symbolizes where the countries’ priorities lie.

I wanted to investigate the interaction of the US and China’s political systems and show their systemic patterns from the perspective of the top and the bottom in both societies. The more awareness and support on the ground in either country there is, the better politicians can do their jobs.

I believe in diplomacy and the importance of the long-term goals the relationship seeks to achieve, but I question whether our current strategies will get us there. By giving voice, identity and prominence to those like Chen Guangcheng on the ground in China in a story about US foreign policy and politics normally confined to white men of power, I hope to improve our understanding of the situation and its truths for the peoples of both countries and the many other countries in the world this relationship impacts.

I hope to encourage others to be a vital part of the debate particularly in giving voice to the voiceless and courage to those who live in fear. This year, on Gloria Steinem’s recommendation, I read two books by Valerie Hudson, “Sex and World Peace” (2012) and “The Hillary Doctrine” (2015). I’ve just come from a conference organized by Dr. Hudson about “Women in Foreign Policy.” It turns out that my feminist instinct to give Gracie Huntsman a voice in the film has merit not only because it might encourage more of the female population to enter the field of foreign policy and politics, but also because it demonstrates the value of a female perspective in general. There is a paradigm shift taking place in foreign policy thinking globally that the US needs to be at the forefront of promoting: an inclusive definition of national security that doesn’t silo “women’s issues,” but instead takes account of women’s insecurity (ie subjugation, threat of physical violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, lack of rights to an education etc,) as its number one priority and lens through which to view the state of the world.

Improving our foreign policy with China will require listening to more Chinese people who are on the ground in China and not in government, like Chen Guangcheng, a huge champion of women's rights who fought to improve women's lives in China, and including and listening to more women’s voices at the tables of decision making.

I shot the majority of this film in China with one DP, Magela Crosignani, over the course of a four year longitudinal study with multiple trips back and forth. We were running and gunning (sometimes up and down steep steps of the temples in Lhasa, Tibet), Magela carrying the SONY EX3 on her shoulder without anyone to help her but me and the most I could do was have her back and stop her from falling. We were followed. We were harassed. We were blocked from filming many times. We were “leaned on” as Michael Keaton playing Boston Globe reporter Robby Robinson puts it in the new film SPOTLIGHT by Tom McCarthy which is a must see.

Many people would’ve preferred this story not come out because it doesn’t pull its punches about what’s actually happening in the relationship and in both countries and might reach a more broad audience than whose who see China only through the lens of how to profit from it and pretend that problems don't exist on both sides. But we persevered. I kept an open mind throughout and learned a great deal in the process not just about filmmaking, but about how to make the complex issues of this story less intimidating to audiences, how to prove their continuing relevance and universal applicability today and how to point toward what may lie in our future if we don't start paying attention to what's happening now.


- Vanessa Hope

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