A documentary that followed Ye Haiyan, an outspoken advocate for sex workers’ rights in the mainland, and other activists, including human rights lawyer Wang Yu – arrested in January for subversion – had its world premiere at the renowned Sundance Film Festival in the US.
Having conquered the major event for independent cinema as China cracks down on human rights, director Nanfu Wang is aiming to show Hooligan Sparrow soon in Hong Kong and in the mainland.
Wang, who went to the US in 2011 to study documentary film-making, told the Sunday Morning Post this was not the film she had imagined when she started the project. “I was interested in Chinese sex workers’ story, their life and rights,” she recalled. “So I contacted Ye Haiyan”, also known as Hooligan Sparrow.
But when Wang, originally from a small village in Jiangxi province, returned to China in 2013, she found the urge to tell a different story. “I realized that she was not working with any sex workers at the moment,” she said of Ye. “But I didn’t stop and say, ‘This is not the film I wanted to make,’”.
Wang decided to follow Ye and her fellow activists to a protest in Hainan province, where a school principal and a government official allegedly raped six elementary school girls aged between 11 and 14 in 2013.
She sensed the story was “much bigger” and more complex than she had thought since it involved state surveillance, censorship, corruption, and sex violence. “I kept filming because I believed that someone needed to record what was happening and share it with the world,” she said.
Wang shot the film with a small DSLR camera and a hidden camera mounted on a pair of eyeglasses. Soon she became a target of intimidation and violence along with Sparrow and other activities.