Everyday Activist - Letter From Masanjia (2018)

Posted on Sunday, August 11, 2019 at 04:00 PM

Letter From Masanjia (2018)

Movie Review by Everyday Activist X CalgaryMovies.com

When I watched Letter from Masanjia, I couldn’t help but think of Human Harvest, a Peabody award winning film that I reviewed back in 2015. They both were about Falun Gong practitioner persecution and contained the same dynamic tension as the filmmaker sharply contrasted the relative safety of the west with the lack social justice in China. Some of the Chinese footage of Falun Gong practitioner arrests also looked familiar. Turns out Leon Lee directed both films, though most of the filming was done by Sun Yi, a released Falun Gong practitioner, and his friends with guidance from Lee.

While working on Human Harvest, an international news story caught Lee’s attention. An American woman found a note from a worker in a Chinese labor camp in a box of Halloween decorations she purchased in the United States. Thousands of miles way, a well educated, mild mannered man, Sun Yi had written it in hopes that someone would find it to send help. Julie Keith took the note seriously, giving it to her local media. Her small act of faith set off a global chain of events that led to the closing of the labor camps. Despite being a success story within itself, Lee pursued a more personal angle. After contacting Keith, Lee used his contacts and three years later, Lee and Sun Yi connected. The kindred spirits wanting to share the story of human rights abuse, embraced the international documentary project, aware of the risk of Sun Yi going back to prison or murdered.

My heart went out to Sun Yi’s family. His wife endured so much while he was away. Their home as well as the homes of relatives were constantly searched. To protect her family, she had to file for divorce. Divorce lawyers seem to have special powers. No one knew where Sun Yi had been taken, but he managed to receive the divorce judgment. In Seven Years in Tibet, mountaineer, Heinrich Harrer finds himself in an East Indian POW camp, but his divorce papers get to him, before he escapes. He also had problems with the Chinese when they invaded Tibet.

Quite a few documentaries have been made about Falun Gong, a spiritual path that involves Qi Gong and Tai Chi related movements along with a study group. Since the 1990s when Falun Gong practitioners outnumbered the Communist Party membership, the persecution started. The Chinese government aggressively sought out practitioners and sent them to labor or death camps while spreading propaganda about the practice. None of the films were as personal as Letter from Masanjia. Sun Yi’s ability to film his guards from the labor camp, who participated in his torture, demonstrates his compassionate ideals. Both men showed remorse and complete respect for Sun Yi’s internal strength. Even the graphic art, featured in the movie, was inspired by Sun Yi’s own drawings.

Letter from Masanjia has racked up an impressive number of festival awards including Best Canadian Documentary Feature in Calgary. Because I was recovering in Whitehorse during the Calgary International Film Festival last year, I had missed the screening. I ended up watching it last week on Kanopy, free with a Calgary Public Library Card. The official website www.letterfrommasanjia.com has great information about documentary, how people can take action and the impact it has had worldwide.

 Calgary Showtimes: Letter From Masanjia >



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