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How Communist China Manipulates the Narrative About China in the West—Leon Lee Talks New Film, “Unsilenced”

“We often talk about how truth will prevail … but lies are sometimes more powerful. … If you don’t make a conscious effort to seek out truth, to speak the truth, sometimes you can be surrounded by lies to the point that you can no longer tell [them] apart.”

In this episode, we sit down with Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Leon Lee. In his new feature film, “Unsilenced,” he tells the story of a group of students who risk their lives to expose a brutal persecution in China. Like most things critical of the Chinese regime, forces were at work trying to make this film disappear.

We discuss how the Chinese regime controls the narrative about China in the West, from Hollywood to major media organizations.

Theaters and Showtimes: UnSilencedMovie.com

 

Jan Jekielek: Leon Lee, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.

Leon Lee: Thank you for having me here.

Mr. Jekielek: Leon, I just recently watched your new film “Unsilenced.” And first of all, the title “Unsilenced,” this is something that not only people in China where the film is based, people all over the world are thinking about this topic, censorship, silencing, being able to say their piece in the public square. Tell us what is this “Unsilenced” all about?

Mr. Lee: “Unsilenced” is based on true events about how an American reporter and a team of innocent students in China come together to expose one of the largest human rights atrocities in China.

Clips from the “Unsilenced”

Speaker 1: More than 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners protested peacefully in Beijing.

Speaker 2: Protestors gathered on the streets, outside the Chinese communist party headquarters.

Speaker 3: It amounts to the largest demonstration since the Tienanmen Square massacre in 1989.

Speaker 4: [Chinese] Come on! Go…

Speaker 5: [Chinese] Falun Gong teaches us to be a good person. The more people practice, the better, right?

Speaker 6: [Chinese] Opportunities like this don’t come around often. It’s up to you to make the most of it.

Speaker 7: [Chinese] The government declares Falun Gong illegal. It is officially banned.

Speaker 8: [Sound of punching human body] [Chinese] Do you denounce Falun Gong?

Speaker 9: [Chinese] As a student Party leader, you of all people should follow the Party.

Speaker 10: [Chinese] Everything here…It’s all a lie.

Speaker 11: [Chinese] Why did you kill your parents?

Speaker 12: [Chinese] I learned from Falun Gong.

Speaker 13: [Chinese] He was willing to say anything once we offered to spare him the death penalty.

Speaker 14: [Chinese] Good work.

Speaker 15: [Chinese] You wouldn’t be doing this.

Speaker 16: [Chinese] Mom… How can you believe this?

Speaker 17: [Chinese] We must expose the truth.

Speaker 18: [Chinese] Stop!

Speaker 19: No, no, I’m a reporter with Chicago Post.

Speaker 20: You begged me to get you back here, whatever it took.

Speaker 21: I cannot stand by and watch them being manipulated.

Speaker 22: This unit!

Speaker 23: They’re turning against each other.

Speaker 24: The government is conducting one of the largest scale propaganda campaigns in history. You just want to ignore it.

Speaker 25: What are you going to do? Walk into the prison at the [inaudible 00:03:10].

Speaker 26: Get out of China, expose their lies to the world.

Speaker 27: [Chinese] Fly high!

Mr. Jekielek: I can’t remember somehow the last time I saw a film come out of Hollywood that was in any way critical of the Chinese regime.

Mr. Lee: Well, the last time is perhaps 1997 when actually we had the three films coming from Hollywood being remotely critical of the Chinese regime. They talked about the human rights issues in Tibet and so on, and so forth.

But after that, Hollywood seemed to have learned a big lesson. In order to get into the Chinese market, which last year, I believe, officially surpassed the United States in terms of box office to be the largest in the world. They are no longer able to produce anything that tells the truth about China. And not only that, I believe there was a trend to actively please the censors in Beijing in order to get into the market.

Mr. Jekielek: Your film really made me think a lot, frankly, not just about China, but about the world in general, and frankly how unlikely heroes are made. Tell me a little bit more about how you found these stories.

Mr. Lee: While making my last documentary, I had an opportunity to meet Wang who turned out to be the protagonist in the film in the United States. He had just escaped from China after spending eight years in prison. And all his crime was basically exposing the persecution through very peaceful means. And he was a Ph.D. candidate in China’s MIT, the prestigious Tsinghua University. He had a bright future, of course.

But then in 1999, the government in China started cracking down on the Falun Gong. And he had been practicing for some time then. So overnight, he turned from this bright star in an elite university to the enemy of the state. He was expelled from school, but he did not give up. He and his friends started this grassroot movement to disseminate information, countering state propaganda. The story is based on his own experience, as well as experiences from other practitioners of Falun Gong, and Western reporters.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, first of all, I want to talk about Wang because Wang has a professor in the film. I really love that character in the film. This professor is troubled by the fact that I think he lost his son in the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. And he sees what’s happening. And he’s afraid that the same will happen to his protege.

Mr. Lee: Absolutely, like an entire generation of Chinese. Their ideals, their dreams, their courage were crushed by the massacre in 1989. Many people completely lost hope. And for them to be able to survive, that’s their priority. There is no longer any pursuit of any ideals. And his professor, as you mentioned, lost his son in 1989.

And Wang, he considered Wang his second son. Everything he learned in his life was that do  not go against the Party. This is the one thing you do not want to do. And he’s trying his best to convince Wang to give up, to renounce his beliefs. But Wang, of course, believed that his belief is right, that everything the government was trying to say about Falun Gong was false, was complete propaganda. And he believed the importance of telling the truth. So, there was an interesting dynamic between the professor and Wang.

Mr. Jekielek: I just have to comment here, Leon. The first film that I saw of yours was “Human Harvest.” And it was one of your very early films. Talk about talking about an issue that you’re not allowed to talk about. This was one of the really big exposes of the whole murder for organs industry in China. And I know you experienced a lot of difficulties in actually having this film made, and distributed, and eventually ended up winning a Peabody award for this. But maybe just briefly, if we’re going to talk about being unsilenced, about important issues, tell me a little bit about that.

Mr. Lee: Yes. “Human Harvest” was an expose about the illegal organ trade in China. It turned out the Chinese regime had been harvesting vital organs from Falun Gong practitioners, Uyghurs, Tibetans, political dissidents in the hundreds of thousands. Of course, this is to fill the booming transplant industry in China.

In the beginning, most of the recipients are wealthy Western patients. After the expose, they turned to domestic market. Domestic patients are mainly the recipients of those organs now. Many organizations have been working on this issue trying to pressure the Chinese regime to stop using organs from death row inmates and from other political dissidents. Although China made a promise to do so, unfortunately, the practice hasn’t really stopped.

Mr. Jekielek: In terms of trying to actually get a film like this made on an issue where you just know that no official body will ever admit to doing such things, tell me a little bit about that.

Mr. Lee: Most of my films have centered on human rights issues in China, partly because nobody else is doing it. I’m fully aware of how difficult it would be. But until I started really doing these films, I didn’t really know how difficult it would be.

Take the example of “Unsilenced,” which we recently finished. I remember in the first production meeting I was telling my core team that, “Guys, we’re making a film about China, but there were two things you need to know. Number one, we cannot use Chinese cast. Number two, we cannot use Chinese locations. So good luck.”

And that was very basic difficulties we faced. Of course, then we did face those challenges. Even when we decided to make this film in Taiwan, several senior cast members, even after signing a deal memo, they would back off, sometimes only days before production would start.

In one case, the actor was stressed out because his family and the heavyweight in the film industry in Taiwan, all came together trying to pressure him to back off, telling him this is suicide. You just cannot do a film like this. In other cases, I even have a few roles in the film who are Western actors. They’re based in Taiwan. Even they backed off because they still want to participate in mainland Chinese productions in Taiwan.

In terms of locations, the same thing. Initially, I thought Taiwan is a democracy and this film is about China. But the fact that we cannot make it in China, but we can make it in Taiwan, actually shows the world that Taiwan is a democracy, shows the world why we need to defend Taiwan. But many people were so afraid to allow us to use their locations.

In one case, I believe it was secretary Young’s office. We started decorating the set. As soon as the owner of the facility saw the Chinese flags, she freaked out. She said, “No. You can’t shoot your film here. You must go somewhere else.”

But then we said, “But we were going to shoot the scene the next day. We cannot find another place overnight.” She said, “I don’t care. You can’t film here.” So quite often, after a long day of production, say 12, 13 hours, the core team had to go look for another location for the next day. After the production, I realize that in two months of production, our key creative team had only one day off.

Mr. Jekielek: That’s incredible. Well, and you actually raised a really interesting point. The issue comes from a few different directions. On the one hand, you have people that are afraid of making the Chinese regime across the strait angry. There’s these over flights over Taipei all the time. I mean, they’re spreading this sense of fear. But then the other side of it is there’s a whole bunch of people that are just like, “What’s that Chinese flag doing here? No way you’re going to be in here.” So, it kind of comes from two sides, doesn’t it?

Mr. Lee: Absolutely. And speaking of fear, I got a firsthand experience myself, which made me  sympathize with them more. I was living in the middle of Taipei. And a few mornings, I was woken up by loud noises. And turned out to be Taiwan’s fighter jets scrambling to intercept Chinese fighter jets.

And this became a frequent event to a point that when people meet each other, they would comment, would talk about, “Oh, this morning, the Chinese jets came again to harass us.” So, for us, it is something that we read about on headlines from time to time. For the people in Taiwan, it’s a daily reality they have to face.

Mr. Jekielek: There’s this other element. There’s of course a significant portion of the Taiwanese population that really wants, has nothing to do with mainland China, as it exists today.

Mr. Lee: Right. There’s lots of political things going on there. But also the CCP’s intimidation and harassment certainly played no small part role in terms of driving more and more people in Taiwan away from the concept of China, no matter how you want to define it. It is safe to say that the vast majority of people in Taiwan cherish their way of life, and almost no one wants to live under the control of the Chinese Communist Party.

Mr. Jekielek: So, Leon, the thing that really struck me about the film was this, I guess this theme that I mentioned earlier, that heroes are made of sometimes unlikely people who are not necessarily very heroic at the beginning. And I’m remembering this scene where the young man, the good friend of Wang, his co-student, coworker in projects is being told to denounce Wang by the university communist party secretary. And I actually want to run that scene.

A Clip from “Uncilenced”

Speaker 28: [Chinese] Wang was a team leader in our laboratory. He was always ready to help others. He studied hard to achieve high grades. Since his obsession with Falun Gong began, he was only interested in “seeking perfection” and achieving a “higher level,” which affected his work, and lead to the detriment of the entire lab. When the Party wisely decided to ban Falun Gong, Wang refused to repent. He lost everything, including his status at a school that most are lucky to attend. He was led astray from his normal life, step by step, into the mind control of Falun Gong.

Speaker 29: [Chinese] Let me elaborate further. Wang not only ruined his own future, he also abetted Li and Xia in disrupting social order. Now Xia has been arrested.

Speaker 28: [Chinese] [Shocked] Xia was arrested!?

Mr. Jekielek: So, this moment, he was ready to read this paper about his friend. Of course, he felt horrible about doing it because he knew the ramifications of going against the Communist Party. But then when he is forced to denounce his girlfriend, the person he loves, that’s too far. And it really changes him. It makes him realize there’s something terrible, terrible I’m being forced to do here. It was just such a gripping moment.

Mr. Lee: Right. It was interesting for me in the sense that some people felt, “Why don’t you simply renounce your faith? Just go along with a party and then you have a life.” This scene, this experience shows that no you won’t have a life. Simply renouncing your faith is not enough. You have to turn in your friends. You have to betray the people you love. You have to completely sell your soul to the regime in order to survive. And do you still call that surviving? Do you still call that living?

So I think for Jiang, he finally realized that there’s no way out. The only thing he can do is to find his own conscience and to say what he means. And interestingly enough, if we dive into some backstory, Jiang came from probably in the military family. And his father participated in the massacre in 1989. So, they knew that they should not go against the party. But now Jiang knew also, if he wants to preserve the self-esteem that he cherished, the only way is to hold onto his own faith and hold onto the truth.

Mr. Jekielek: And this seems like a perpetual theme when it comes to dealing with the Chinese Communist Party. It’s almost like you have to give up the things you cherish most to work with it, or perhaps not have them in the first place.

Mr. Lee: Yes. And this scene also tells us more about how the persecution works, because maybe for many people, they felt, “Okay, the police will come. They will arrest practitioners. They will be tortured, which is bad enough.” But that’s not all of it. In China, every school, every medium or large workplace, sometimes even private enterprises, the military, news organizations, almost every place, even your community, your neighborhood, there will be a communist party representative who is responsible to carry out the party policies. And sometimes this person ranks even higher than your general manager or your school principal.

So, the entire nation is mobilized in the crackdown against Falun Gong. For example, in this scene, if some university students are caught disseminating information about Falun Gong, then the party secretary may be demoted. She may be fired. And that’s why you see husbands forced to divorce their wives. Children were kicked out of school because their parents are Falun Gong practitioners. Your colleagues, your classmates, your friends, everybody is mobilized, turned against you.

Just like what you see in the scene, people are often forced to renounce their beliefs in front of their colleagues, classmates, in front of the people they love, they care about. And in front of everybody, they have to say things that they do not believe in. They have to tow the party lie. So, in a sense, the crackdown completely destroyed the entire nation.

Mr. Jekielek: What do you think the purposes of these very, very public forced confessions or denunciations, what do you think the purpose of these is?

Mr. Lee: I think the purpose is to create an environment where everybody understands that whatever the party says, you just have to follow. Everybody needs to understand that you have to completely disregard whether something is true or not. They no longer want people to believe in what’s true. They want people to only believe in what the party wants them to believe.

Mr. Jekielek: I’m thinking of this other character, the young woman who basically was participates in hanging the banners, shown early in the film, gets arrested, tortured horrifically, and eventually gets out of prison. But ultimately, she demands of the reporter, the Western reporter, that he tell her story in her name, even though he’s telling her, “I can get you out of the country. I can do it anonymously.” She said, “No, you have to do it in my name. People need to know this is real.”

Mr. Lee: Right. Xia, the woman you mentioned, experienced extreme torture, which is actually well documented by human rights organizations, even the United Nations, in the crackdown against Falun Gong. Even in my previous films, we’ve depicted quite a few torture methods.

In “Letter from Masanjia,” for example, Sun Yi was tied into a very painful position for days. In “The Bleeding Edge,” we’ve seen practitioners’ fingernails being pried out with bamboo shoots. In “Unsilenced,” for example, we have practitioners burned by irons, shocked by electric batons. So, violence and propaganda, the two most effective weapons the CCP had.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, and in the face of this, and again, back to this theme that came out for me, which is, how unlikely heroes are made. There’s a lot of really innovative ways that in the face of the complete control of the media by the regime that these practitioners of Falun Gong figure out how they can actually get the word out about the reality that they face, and frankly, just the reality about Falun Gong itself.

Mr. Lee: Right. Speaking of complete control, I think many people might not have the idea of the extent of the control. Well, there’s a government agency in China, for a long time it is actually called the propaganda department of the Central Committee of the CCP. But then they realized that’s not the best translation. So, they changed the name to the Publicity Department.

But its sole goal is to completely control the media in China, thousands of newspapers, hundreds of TV networks. Many of them receive dozens of directives from the propaganda department in terms of what to report, what word to use, what articles to censor. Hundreds and thousands of internet police patrolling the Chinese social media space and the internet, which by the way, is completely shielded off by The Great Firewall from the outside world. So, you don’t have access to YouTube, Google, Facebook, Twitter, not at all.

And in this scenario, imagine how difficult it is for the Chinese citizens to say anything that is different from the party narrative. That’s why the Falun Gong practitioners employ various ways. For example, they would distribute flyers door to door. They would distribute leaflets through balloons. They would sometimes pass on DVDs to people. And there are also cases where they use loud speakers with a timer. They hang speakers in a public place or even sometimes near prisons, detention centers. And the timer would allow them to escape before the broadcast would begin.

So [there are] various ways to get their voices heard. But what really amazed me was that despite the violent suppression, Falun Gong practitioners have never employed violence in their own struggle. They’ve done everything they can in peaceful ways. Falun Gong practitioners’ efforts perhaps is the largest nonviolent movement in the last 20 years.

Mr. Jekielek: I would also say that this incredible innovation in dissemination of information across a country of 1.3 billion is, I just think, a completely unprecedented campaign of grassroots peaceful activism.

Mr. Lee: Yes. And the Chinese regime of course recognized how effective this campaign is. They’ve also taken the extreme measure. I’ll give you two examples. One is across the supply stores where people can buy print paper. For a long time, they will have secret agents there trying to find out who is coming to buy paper, buy cartridges. Sometimes the paper is also marked so they can trace back to see who is getting those things.

Another example, which by the way, we show one of those scenes in our film, where Lee went to buy paper. And the owner actually reported her to the police. The other case, the officials put special devices on their vans and they would go through different communities trying to detect whose printers are running. And based on how long it is running, they can say, “Well, maybe this is underground material site that’s being used to produce those leaflets.”

Mr. Jekielek: And the other thing that just jumps to my mind too is there’s ultimately this professor, despite being incredibly fearful for what was likely going to happen to his newfound second son, as you describe him, in the end, he kind of realizes and finds a little courage himself.

Mr. Lee: I think it’s hard to know how this whole movement are changing people’s minds because of the heavy censorship. But I have no doubt that the Falun Gong practitioners’ efforts over the years have planted seeds in China.

One thing I like to point out is the Tuidang Movement. Essentially, they set out a website asking Chinese people who have joined the party or the youth league or the pioneer teams, which are both affiliated organizations of the communist party in China to go on this website to basically say, “I quit.” You can use your real name or you can use an alias.

Now in the beginning, I have to admit I was a little skeptical. It was a website. You can go there and just type something. So what’s the big deal? But last time I checked, over 380 million people have gone to the website. Some simply said, I quit. I quit the party. I quit the youth league.

Some people would spend the time to write a long essay detailing how they first joined the party, how their impression of the party changed over the years, why they had to quit. I think these people are the seeds. And one day when the time comes, these people will play a significant role in changing China forever.

Mr. Jekielek: And this Tuidang Movement is really interesting because, as you mentioned, it’s not something that people have to do publicly, yelling in the streets, the communist party is evil. But it’s something, I’ve heard it described as a kind of an internal cleansing because it’s sort of people recognizing the party for what it is, and just putting it aside from them. Whereas as you’ve been describing throughout our interview, it tries to kind of insert itself into every aspect of your life and your consciousness, frankly.

Mr. Lee: Exactly. Even though many people use aliases to quit the party on this particular website, it still takes tremendous courage in a society like China. So, the fact that so many people have gone to the site and did something like this really gave me hope. Exactly as you mentioned, this is an internal thing. But the very fact that they did it means that they have found the courage to do so.

Mr. Jekielek: One very, very effective piece of propaganda that you document in the film, and it’s one of the sort of an important part of the development of the film, which I’m not going to give away why, but was the so-called self-immolation incident. And what does that tell you? Tell me a little bit about why you chose to use that and what it was, even what significance it has today?

Mr. Lee: In the Chinese New Year’s Eve on January 23rd, 2001, according to the Chinese state media, seven members of Falun Gong set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Now this became huge news. Right after the incident, the Chinese regime put out 24/7 propaganda across the nation. At a time when the persecution has been slow down because many people in China felt there was simply no need to suppress such peaceful group. And what the party did went so far.

But from the Falun Gong side, they heavily disputed this event, because in their teachings, they explicitly forbid any violence or suicide. Two weeks after the event, Philip Pan from the Washington Post actually went to Kaifeng where the Chinese government claims that the practitioners came from to investigate the identity of the two victims who died in the incident. Nobody ever saw them practicing Falun Gong.

Since then, there were new reports coming out. There was a documentary made by my friend Jason Loftus called “Ask No Questions,” also diving into this particular incident. So now it is clear, at least to me, that this incident is staged by the Communist Party to defame Falun Gong.

The entire self-immolation incident was used as a weapon to dehumanize and defame Falun Gong nationwide. And it really turned the public tide. For a long time, the public were sympathetic towards the Falun Gong practitioners. But after the incident, we see a lot more people turning in practitioners they know. We see even increased use of extreme violence against the practitioners.

Mr. Jekielek: So when it comes to this reporter character, the Western reporter who has just made it back into the good graces of the Chinese Communist Party after having reported on the Tiananmen Square massacre 10 years before, he’s now looking around, trying to figure out what’s going on.

He’s calling back to his editor, and the editor is saying, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, what do you want to report on? Listen, let’s report on nice friendly things.” So, this sounds like a common theme these days. But is this what was happening back then too?

Mr. Lee: Yes. The Chinese regime had various ways to censor, control or influence foreign reporters in China. And this has been well documented by organizations such as Reporters Without Borders. And in “Unsilenced,” our reporter is a composite character. I did interview many reporters who [were] stationed in China. And I was able to incorporate some of their experiences into this character.

And for many reporters, dealing with the interference and censorship is a daily reality. Sometimes they were only given for example, three months visa or six months of visa. And depending on what articles they write during this period of time, their visa may or may not be extended.

Now for some reporters, it might be okay. They come back to the States, they get assigned to a different beat. That’s fine. But for some people, China is their specialty. They’ve been studying Chinese since college. This is what they do. And for a Chinese expert, for a scholar in academia or a reporter, if they lose access to China, they sort of lose access to everything. And that’s why for many of them to be able to report the truth, it’s a constant struggle.

Mr. Jekielek: This actually reminds me of a recent interview I did with Ashley Rensburg, who was talking about various New York Times reporting of the past. And one example was Walter Duranty in the ’30s, that during Stalin’s forced famine of Ukraine in the 1930s, he was reporting everything was great over there, and won a Pulitzer for it. And one of the things that comes out in the research that Rensburg did was that there was kind of an agreement with the Times and the Soviet Union that they would be doing positive reporting for them just to get access.

Mr. Lee: For some news organizations, to be able to keep their China bureau is also essential for them to be an international news outlet. For example, the CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Company, at one time, they were scheduled to air a documentary about the persecution of Falun Gong. And immediately, their Beijing bureau were visited by security officials. So, at the last minute, they actually pulled the documentary. It was such a hassle that they did not have time to change the lower third on screen.

And now it’s unfortunately even worse because few large companies probably control 90 percent of the media in the U.S. And if you actually look into it, the vast majority of them have huge business entities in China; theme parks, hotels, various investments in China. It’s no wonder that there is a conflict of interest there, and there’s no wonder also why many news organizations shy away from the most sensitive issues in China.

Mr. Jekielek: So, Leon, there’s been a lot of talk of a boycott of the Beijing Olympic games in 2022. Now some countries, including the U.S. have announced a diplomatic boycott because of, at least one, if not three genocides. And I mentioned, Xinjiang, Uyghur people, Tibetans, and of course Falun Gong, which you’re talking about, which many people also believe is genocide. My question is this, is this still happening today? What you’ve described is not a historical film.

Mr. Lee: Not at all. The persecution against Falun Gong started in 1999 and has continued to this day. When talking about the boycotting of the Beijing Olympics, it reminds me of something quite puzzling. In almost all these official statements, people mentioned the Uyghurs, people mentioned other groups that were persecuted.

But rarely people mentioned Falun Gong. But it’s very important to point this out because the methods that was perfected in the persecution of Falun Gong have later been used in targeting other groups, including the Uyghurs.

If the world stood up against the crackdown on Falun Gong 20 years ago, we would be in a very different world today. Perhaps we wouldn’t have so much persecution against other groups. Perhaps the cover up, the propaganda wouldn’t be so effective. So that’s why I think we cannot ignore the persecution of Falun Gong anymore. It’s certainly a right step towards a diplomatic boycott. But we cannot stop there.

Mr. Jekielek: Leon, I keep thinking back to the title of the film, “Unsilenced.” And of course, the film is precisely about stepping up as individuals to fight extreme censorship and propaganda and so forth. And I know there’s a lot of people around the world, in the United States and frankly everywhere, this film will resonate with at this moment.

Mr. Lee: Absolutely. For me, this is much more than a human rights story in China. It is on one hand about how the propaganda machine, the censorship, the cover up, that’s happening in China and how it directly relates to our daily lives here in America. For example, if there was no cover up of the pandemic in the beginning, maybe we won’t face such a disaster nowadays worldwide.

But on the other hand, we often talk about how truth will prevail, how powerful truth is. In reality, sometimes, I would say truth is eternal, but lies are sometimes more powerful, lies are more prevalent. If you don’t make a conscious effort to seek out truth, to speak the truth, sometimes you can be surrounded by lies to a point that you can no longer tell apart truth from lies.

So, if we look at people in China, as you see in the film, the length they’re willing to go to speak the truth, I think it’s inspiring, to me at least. The why and how in the west, we need to stand up for the truth. Sometimes there’s a cost to speak the truth, but in no way, it can compare to the cost and the risks people like Wang take in the film, practitioners in China take. So, if they can do what they do in China, facing torture, facing arrest, I think we can do better in the west.

Mr. Jekielek: So Leon, I also wanted to mention to everyone that this film is going to be appearing in many cities across America in theaters. I understand the number’s been reduced somewhat originally. It was 60 cities across North America. But now, virus policy may be changing that. How can people get up to it?

Mr. Lee: We’ll have a limited theatrical release across North America from January 21st. You can go to unsilencedmovie.com to check the list of the theaters as we are going to have a release. You can also leave your email there and you’ll be the first to know when the movie comes to you.

Mr. Jekielek: So Leon, I understand you’ve actually done some public screenings of the film. What has been the response thus far?

Mr. Lee: The film has been in the film festival circuit for some time, and I was very happy to see the response. For example, we won the Audience Award at the Austin Film Festival. And from what I could see, half of the audience were shedding tears after watching the film, and they were telling me how profoundly moved they were by the story, by their courage, their perseverance, and how inspired they were after seeing the film. So, I hope that more people will have a chance to see this film and learn the incredible story of these young students and the American reporter.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, I can also echo that sentiment. I can say that for at least an hour after I watched it, I felt very deeply moved, and it’s stayed with me since. Well, Leon Lee, it’s such a pleasure to have you on.

Mr. Lee: Thank you.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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