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Wen Hai

Release year: 2008

Run time: 102 mins

Film type: Documentary


The voices in this film are all conscientious citizens doing their utmost to improve the state of their nation. Their ethos is: "Where affairs of state are concerned, we cannot stand idly by and watch". And yet the reward for their concern is a lifetime spent in political turmoil, years of periodic intimidation and surveillance. This film illustrates the perils of seeking freedom in a time of darkness, in a time when critique requires transformation. It depicts the harsh realities faced by three generations of activists—young, middle-aged and elderly—and allows us to better understand their anxieties, hopes, despair—and above all, their persistence.


Director biography

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 camera man on WangBing'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.

Director's statement

Starting from a portrait of lay Buddhists (Wenhai opposes religious feeling to chaos), We leads us on to meet something more, and more powerful: in a word, dissidents. Not dissidents in the sense associated with the Soviet Union, but a bunch of courageous citizens, no matter whether CCP members or not, who persist in thinking politically (and not just economically) about the future of their country. All these people have the experiences of being oppressed, of being imprisoned, of being harassed by the police, of being censored. All of them have learned how to survive in this country, and how to continue.

The original title of the film was Tamen, which means They. But Wen Hai knows very well that a direcor is also shooting himself while he shoots others. By calling the film They, he would have created distance; the people in the film would appear like a group of strangers. The final cut therefore takes the position: They are We.

Wen Hai has said modestly of his film that he has just tried to capture some images of Chinese citizens. Formidable modesty helps him find a sort of courage in these poet-heroes, since it makes us see and hear the weight of history on a "now" made up of neon lights, mobile phones, skyscrapers, and Olympic games.


  • 2008 Special Jury Award, Horizons, the 65th Venice Film Festival