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Outcry and Whisper

Wen Hai, Zeng Jinyan (co-director) and Trish McAdam (co-director)

Release year: 2020

Run time: 114 min

Film type: Documentary


Shot over an eight-year period (2007-2015), this documentary film aims to present women’s struggle in the private and public spheres, both in China and Hong Kong. It offers a view into the lives of female factory workers, artists, rights activists, and intellectuals—all of whom deal with political violence, SWAT police attacks, sexual harassment, online bullying, long-term separation from family, arbitrary treatment by transnational factory management, and/or poverty in their home villages.

The film depicts rural women working in factories in the Pearl River Delta who self-organize, protesting for their basic payment and social insurance. Meanwhile, activist and young intellectual Zeng Jinyan creates a film diary in secret to maintain her own sanity, detailing her experiences of resisting gendered pressure and political oppression in order to gain self-autonomy and awareness. In following her life in Hong Kong and China, we are taken to feminists gathering in Ai Xiaoming’s home, which became a semi-public space in the party-state. A Chinese artist cuts her face in a performance to express her own resistance to violence against women.

Irish visual artist Trish McAdam produces and directs animations in the film, employing an irreverent style to attract younger audiences. Through animations, she links the experience of female factory workers in digital China and during the British Industrial Revolution, enhances footage of surveillance in a factory office, reflects on the Foxconn factory suicides, and considers the traumatic impact of violence against women.


Director biography

Wen Hai
Wen Hai studied at the Beijing Film Academy and has since 2001 been active as an independent film director. Among his best known films are Floating Dust (2004), which won the Prix Georges Beauregard at the 16th Festival International du Documentaire in Marseille in 2005; Dream Walking (2006), awarded the Grand Prize at the 2006 Cinéma du Réel; and the film We, which won the Horizons Special Mention award at the 2008 Venice International Film Festival. Wen Hai also worked as a cameraman on Wang Bing's film Three Sisters (2012). His 2016 book The Gaze of Exile: Witnessing Chinese Independent Documentary Films (《放逐的凝视——见证中国独立纪录片》)is published in Taipei by Tendency.

Zeng Jinyan
Zeng Jinyan (based in Hong Kong and Beijing, P. R. China), scholar, writer, and documentary filmmaker, the 2017 Oak Fellow (film and photography) at Colby College (USA), is the Outstanding Chinese and Indian Post-doctoral Fellow at the University of Haifa (Israel). Zeng specializes in culture and politics, intellectual identity and social activism, documentary/avant-garde, gender and sexuality, and ethnicity, with particular emphasis on China.

Trish McAdam
Trish McAdam, Filmmaker and Visual Artist. Best known for Snakes and Ladders (1997), Hoodwinked 1998), No Enemies Liu Xiaobo (2012) and Strangers of Kindness (2015). Member of Aosdana (2017). Irish Film Institute Director in Focus 2019.

Director's statement

From Director WEN Hai
My 2017 feature film We the Workers presents stories of male workers and labor NGO workers/activists, while Outcry and Whisper portraits female workers’ lives, work and protesting experiences. Since 2009, I have followed female workers’ stories and worked on conceptualizing their stories into a feature film design about Chinese women. The Chinese title of the film is “喊叫與耳語 (Outcry and Whisper)”. “喊叫 (Outcry)”, is the fury of the mass. “耳語 (Whisper)”, is the personal monologue. In the film, protagonist Zeng Jinyan, an activist and an intellectual, speaks in a secret video diary of her traumatic experience of resisting gendered and political oppression. Her stories bring to light ongoing struggles for autonomy, which resurface again and again in stories of Chinese women from all walks of life: the lonely female worker LI Ning in one of the biggest flax factories in the world, who is facing a situation of marrying a stranger; the worker turned labour NGO activist ZHU Xiaomei, who was laid off for helping workers defend their rights; a group of female workers from Xinsheng Shoe Factory, HUANG Jie, XIANG Zhiiing, YU Sanmei, and QING Qingmei, self-organizing to defend their basic rights; a group of feminists gathering at Ai Xiaoming’s Guangzhou flat turned semi-theater; Tiananmen mothers persisting for justice of killed children, and artists using their own bodies to reclaim autonomy and justice.

From Producer, Co-director and Scriptwriter ZENG Jinyan
After moving to Hong Kong in 2012, I created a video diary in secret to deal with the unbearable gendered and political violence I faced. The process of creating a video diary protected me from breaking down and opened a new opportunity for me through which to understand human dignity. Now, having a certain level of distance from these traumatic experiences, I am able to revisit this footage. Watching all worker, artist, activist, and intellectual protagonists’ images and listening to their voices in preparing for Outcry and Whisper, I at times found myself in tears, understanding the pain and strength of being Outcry and Whisper. With emotional, artistic, intellectual, and all kinds of support from director WEN Hai, animation director Trish McAdam, and my PhD advisor Prof. Sik Ying Ho, as a feminist scholar I aim to portray and interrogate various kinds of violence, healing and empowering in its many different forms through the film Outcry and Whisper.

From Animation Director Trish McAdam
I feel lucky to have been asked to work on Outcry and Whisper with such a cross-cultural, free speaking, creative team. My animation contribution comes from an invitation to respond, as a female artist, to unedited footage of WEN Hai’s, Outcry and Whisper. This invitation arose out of a cultural dialogue between Zeng Jinyan and myself, which is on-going for more than five years. During these five years I have realized that Jinyan and myself, our cultures and experiences, have more in common than different. This is manifest in Outcry and Whisper, for me most heart felt, in my drawing and animating of a sequence of Chinese worker's faces. In the process of working on the film I feel I have gotten to know the women protagonists intimately, and found that in drawing them they ceased to be Chinese – what was important for was to catch their expression, and, in an expression you find universality, cross cultural commonality. Women, across the world have no more or no less struggle with their multiple roles; friend, lover, mother, worker, artist, boss, and more. A changing environment of new technology, the rise of feminism and globalization, all has real impacts on their domestic, social, and work relationships everywhere.