Filmmaker Ronald Levaco was born in China of Russian Jewish parents, but his family fled when he was ten years old, as did most Westerners, as the revolution spread in 1949. Forty-five years later, Mr. Levaco returns to the country of his birth to discover what happened to Israel Epstein, his father's best friend, a Russian Jew who decided to stay.
Round Eyes in the Middle Kingdom is an attempt to understand the motivations behind Epstein's actions: why he joined Mao's communist revolution which forced most foreigners to leave; why he has chosen to remain in China after being subjected to solitary confinement during the 1970s; why he elected to become a Chinese citizen. The film also documents what kind of life he has made for himself as China's leading foreign journalist.
But Round Eyes in the Middle Kingdom is more than a straightforward biography. The exploration of Epstein's life is part of filmmaker Levaco's attempt to put his own life into focus, to reconcile his own comfortable, colonial childhood in China with the famines and suffering that led to the Chinese revolution in the first place.
"A fresh spin on cross-cultural observation [and] an intriguing mix of the personal and political that side-steps all the usual wide-eyed-Westerner cliches."—Variety
Golden Gate Award, 1996 San Francisco International Film Festival
Gold Apple, 1996 National Educational Media Network
1996 Cine Golden Eagle
First Prize, 1996 Judah Magnes Jewish Film Festival
"Terrific!"—The Hollywood Reporter