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.