From The dGenerate Films Collection

Directed by HU Jie

114 minutes / Color
Mandarin / English subtitles
Release: 2019
Copyright: 2019

Included on the same home video DVD as THE OBSERVER.

SPARK opens by the side of a road in Lanzhou City, northwestern China, as trucks rumble through a blasted hillside. An elderly man walks along the dusty road and pauses to point to a nearby spot—the former execution grounds. “They executed many,” the man says. “Then fewer and fewer.”

Two of those executed were contributors to Spark, a short-lived magazine from Gansu Province whose young, intellectual contributors bravely shone a light on the horrific realities of life during the Great Leap Forward.

In SPARK, filmmaker Hu Jie—who has been described as “China’s most important unofficial historian-filmmaker”— tracks down the surviving men and women of Spark, including founder Gu Yan, allowing them to tell their stories.

Weaving together their interviews, the film is in an oral history of the magazine and the tumultuous period that from which it arose. The interviews are striking in their clarity and their emotional immediacy 60 years later. The son of Du Yinghua, a local Communist Party county committee secretary executed for his sympathy for the Spark writers, breaks down in tears after laying out copies of his father’s books. Tan Chanxue seems completely at ease—even smiling—as she recalls being herded, bound, through throngs of schoolchildren brought to witness and cheer the Spark members’ public outdoor trial.

The writers who contributed to Spark were not all driven by the same motives, yet all were branded as rightists and faced persecution during the Anti-Rightist Movement of the late 1950s, and both Lin and Zhang were sentenced to hefty prison terms, subsequently changed to death sentences.

A brave and powerful document, SPARK is a testament to the threat to power that comes from people willing to speak out about what they see—and an invaluable contribution to understanding the period of the Great Leap Forward.

SPARK makes an excellent companion to Wang Bing’s monumental DEAD SOULS, about victims and survivors of the Anti-Rightist Movement, and Hu Jie’s SEARCHING FOR LIN ZHAO’S SOUL—which details the persecution of Lin, a Christian, and is a testament to her legacy of courage and conviction.

"Though none of his works have been publicly shown in China, Hu Jie is one of his country's most noteworthy filmmakers." Ian Johnson, The New York Review of Books

"We can only imagine how difficult it is for Hu to produce his films; only a committed person who takes what he does as a 'calling,' can persist." Dr. Weili Yu, Yale University, in the journal Asian Educational Media Service

"Profound; a film about the search for the truth."Rouven Linnarz, Asian Movie Pulse

"Hu Jie's body of work puts a human face on some of the worst horrors of the Communist Party's recent history."Matthew Bell, Public Radio International

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A film by HU Jie

Select Accolades

  • Best Film, Taiwan Independent Documentary Festival
  • Tromso International Film Festival
  • Association for Asian Studies Film Expo 2020


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