Friday, May 24, 2024

Landmark Tiananmen Square Doc Makes Producer Trudie Styler, Director Michael Apted “Persona Non Grata” in China 30 Years Later


Producer Trudie Styler says that after making the landmark Tiananmen  Square documentary, “Moving the Mountain,” back in 1994, she and director Michael Apted became persona non grata in China.

Last night Styler and Apted showed the extraordinary, moving documentary at the Metrograph Theater to friends and members of the Council on Foreign Relations on the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square student protests. The film was shot surreptitiously in China, with Styler, Apted and their crew just barely getting out of China with their footage. The movie went on to win the prestigious Ecumenical Jury Prize at the Berlin Festival in 1995.

“Moving the Mountain” is notable for its narration and on camera appearances by then student  Li Lu, who wrote a memoir about his involvement as a leading student activist at Tiananmen Square. He escaped from China to study at Columbia University as Warren Buffet’s protege, where he was one of the first students in history to receive three degrees simultaneously: a B.A. in Economics, a M.B.A. and a J.D. in 1996. He’s now an international financier and investor.

The screening came as the 30th anniversary is being discussed around the world. But in China, as many outlets have reported, new generations have no idea what happened in Tiananmen Square. The event– in which 10,000 people were killed has been scrubbed from China’s history by the government. Most younger Chinese people have never seen the classic photo of a brave student stopped a series of tanks cold in the square.

When “Moving the Mountain” was shown in 1994-95 around the world, the Chinese government was not pleased. Styler tells me that soon after, her husband, rock star Sting, was invited to perform at the Great Wall of China.  (Sting declined the invitation.”He said, they’re inviting me but my wife is not allowed to come.” said Styler, who has not been back to China and can never return even for a sightseeing visit. “I’m persona non grata there now,” she said.  So is the famous filmmaker Apted, despite his many accolades for films like “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and the “Up” series of documentaries. (The latest, “63 Up,” is airing right now in Britain.)

Sadly, “Moving the Mountain” is not available digitally or even on VHS anymore. A company like Criterion needs to come and revive it so it’s accessible on all modern formats. The film is a piece of  urgent importance considering China’s revisionist history.  But of course, the question remains if any streaming company with financial interests in China will want to show it. I certainly hope so.



Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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