Letter from Masanjia won the Audience Award at the recent Newburyport Documentary Film Festival. The film played to a full house at the Firehouse Center. For those that didn’t make the showing, here is brief synopsis:
When an American mom discovers an SOS note stashed in a package from Kmart, she never imagines it will lead to the closure of Masanjia, China’s most notorious labor camp. When news of the note goes viral, the writer, a Chinese engineer who had been jailed for his spiritual beliefs, fears for his life and his family’s safety. Realizing the spotlight is a chance to further expose the brutality of the Chinese regime, he decides to make a film about the harsh reality of being a human rights defender in China, risking his life in the process.
For over a year, Sun Yi, the SOS writer, details his entire story on film as he revisits his torturous past at Masanjia and is hotly pursued by authorities. Secret-camera footage and harrowing glimpses of his personal life offer a rare look inside China’s terrifying police state through the lens of a political dissident, showing us a true modern hero who will stop at nothing to expose the truth.
Attending the festival coming in from Vancouver, Canada was film maker Leon Lee and some of his answers to audience questions were simply mind-blowing. Here are some of the highlights:
Sun Yi was imprisoned for practicing Falun Gong, or Falun Dafa. This is a Chinese spiritual practice that combines meditation and qigong exercises with a moral philosophy centered on the tenets of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance. Leon described as similar to Tai Chi. There are Falun Gong groups across the world including in Boston, Saugus and Worcester.
In March 2017, Christel Wallace found a piece of paper folded up at the bottom of a new purse purchased from one of Walmart's Arizona stores. The note was written in Mandarin Chinese and translated it read:
Inmates in China’s Yingshan Prison work 14 hours a day and are not allowed to rest at noon. We have to work overtime until midnight. People are beaten for not finishing their work. There’s no salt and oil in our meals. The boss pays 2,000 yuan every month for the prison to offer better food, but the food is all consumed by the prison guards. Sick inmates have to pay for their own pills. Prisons in China cannot be compared to prisons in the United States. Horse, cow, goat, pig, dog.
A lenthy story "You buy a purse at Walmart. There’s a note inside from a “Chinese prisoner.” Now what?"was written in VOX which you can read here
Hear a BBC interview with the film maker and Julie Keith - the person who found the SOS letter