HOOLIGAN SPARROW — Nanfu Wang Interview

Nanfu Wang, San Francisco, CA 1/4/17

There is a difference between understanding that covering a human rights protest in China will be problematic, and actually experiencing the surveillance and intimidation that goes with that territory.  That’s one of the first things I talked about with Nanfu Wang, whose documentary, HOOLIGAN SPARROW, has been short-listed for this year’s Oscar ™.  It was when Wang joined Sparrow to protest an infamous case of a school principal using underage students as a sexual bribe to a local official. That was the first thing we discussed before moving on to why a doc about sex workers in China became a portrait of a resilient, even cheerful, one-woman protest movement.

Wang discovered that she had more in common with her subject, aka Ye Haiyen, than she might have suspected, each of them coming from a small village in China, each of them using their dreams to find life on a larger stage, and she spoke movingly about her father inspired her long after his untimely death. She also talked about the feeling of paranoia that the experience engendered, the question of whether she would be granted an exit visa from China after she finished filming, and how radical artist Ai Wei Wei turned one of Sparrow’s lowest moments into a powerful art installation that toured the world’s museums.There is a difference between understanding that covering a human rights protest in China will be problematic, and actually experiencing the surveillance and intimidation that goes with that territory.  That’s one of the first things I talked about with Nanfu Wang, whose documentary, HOOLIGAN SPARROW, has been short-listed for this year’s Oscar ™.  It was when Wang joined Sparrow to protest an infamous case of a school principal using underage students as a sexual bribe to a local official. That was the first thing we discussed before moving on to why a doc about sex workers in China became a portrait of a resilient, even cheerful, one-woman protest movement.

Wang discovered that she had more in common with her subject, aka Ye Haiyen, than she might have suspected, each of them coming from a small village in China, each of them using their dreams to find life on a larger stage, and she spoke movingly about her father inspired her long after his untimely death. She also talked about the feeling of paranoia that the experience engendered, the question of whether she would be granted an exit visa from China after she finished filming, and how radical artist Ai Wei Wei turned one of Sparrow’s lowest moments into a powerful art installation that toured the world’s museums.

We finished up with why Sparrow has refused to leave China for a safer life abroad, and how she came to be known by her now famous moniker.

HOOLIGAN SPARROW is her documentary about Ye Haiyan aka Hooligan Sparrow, a fearless activist and agitator for women’s rights in China. Wang follows her as she protests a school principal using his underage female students as a sexual bribe, tirelessly gives interviews to the press in order to keep the struggle in the public eye, and is first evicted from her home and then arrested by the police. Throughout, Sparrow shows both resilience and exceptional humor, even as Wang herself discovers the very real threat to her of covering such a controversial public figure. Wang grew up in a small village in China before coming to the United States to study journalism. This is her feature film debut. It is already won the the Emerging Documentary Filmmaker award from IDA (International Documentary Association), and has been short-listed for this year’s Academy Award.

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