Urban Cinefile
"They used to shoot her through gauze. You should shoot me through linoleum. "  -Tallulah Bankhead on Shirly Temple
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



For director Jeff Daniels his latest doco was triggered over a beer in a Beijing bar. He followed the lead and began to make what turned out to be an astonishing story which clearly embodies the living history of a forgotten people as they struggle to demand basic human rights in China. He tells the story ...

I first learned about the Uyghur around seven years ago while having a beer with a friend of mine in a modest bar in Beijing. He told me about a student in his English conversation class who appeared more Iranian than Chinese. My friend asked the student where he was from and was amazed to learn of a thriving Muslim population living in the far western deserts of China. When the Uyghur student noticed another Chinese student intently listening in, he told my friend to do his own research on his people as there was only so much he could say in public.

Soon after my friend and I were on a train for four days travelling across China’s vast and diverse terrain until we reached the desert oases and mountain valleys of Xinjiang province. We had done our research about this land and how the Chinese annexed what was once an independent East Turkestan in 1949. We also understood how China saw the Uyghur’s demands for autonomous rule as a threat to its unity and banned all public protests. Some Uyghur responses were violent leading to harsh military crackdowns and human rights atrocities in this region. The Chinese government justified their actions to the world as a homegrown battle in the global War on Terror.

"a colourful and resilient people"

Passing ourselves off as tourists we were able to collect footage of a colourful and resilient people. They were Muslim, but the women did not all where burkhas and the men were known to drink alcohol. We were invited to a wedding where we learned how to toast by rubbing shot glasses and dance with other men to show off our moves to the women before they joined in. The Uyghur loved a celebration and after witnessing their second-class status in their own country, we understand why.

Over the next few years I met with Uyghur exiles in New York in libraries, bagel shops and Turkish restaurants. They suspected me of being a spy for the Chinese as so many other supposed journalists and filmmakers turned out to be. Eventually they trusted me enough to meet Rebiya Kadeer, recently released from prison after 6 years for mailing Uyghur newspaper clippings to her exiled husband in Washington DC.

Rebiya Kadeer told me how she had overcome a lack of Chinese government support for Uyghurs in education and economic development to become the wealthiest entrepreneur in the country. She gave me unprecedented access to her work raising awareness of the Uyghur’s plight. She then introduced me to her daughter Rey who feared her mother’s work would endanger her siblings still living in China. When these concerns came to a head Rebiya continued to allow me access to her private life. I was able to observe how an exiled leader makes impossible decisions for her people at the cost of her family.

With my own funds and help from Film Victoria and Screen Australia I was able to follow Rebiya for two years as her awareness campaign grew and family situation worsened. She has been put in a horrible position, which plays out differently for both her and her daughter. I soon found that I was filming an astonishing story which clearly embodies the living history of a forgotten people as they struggle to demand basic human rights in China.

JEFF DANIELS, Writer/Director
Now Australian based, Jeff has worked for the past 10 years in New York, Los Angeles and Australia as a researcher and in post-production on a number of commercial and documentary projects and features including Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary series (PBS), The Justice Files (Discovery Channel), The Cindy Margolis Show (CBS), American President documentary series (PBS), A Matter of Choice (PBS), Muddy Waters (SBS), Wildness (SBS), Troubled Minds: The Story of Lithium (ABC), Hitmakers (ABC), and The Cable (Showtime, ABC).

He has also written and directed a number of short documentary films covering topics from Jewish-American identity in Holocaust films to Gaelic football culture in the Bronx. His latest short screened at the Jewish Short Film Festival (November 2009). Currently, he teaches multimedia, video production, film theory and Australian History at a high school in Melbourne.

JOHN LEWIS, Producer
John is an independent documentary and television producer (Arcimedia). His most recent productions include Constructing Fear: Australia’s Secret Industrial Inquisition a net-disseminated documentary produced ahead of Australia’s 2007 general election, and PNG: The Rules of the Game, produced for ITVS (US) and SBS Television.
He was Executive producer of Penicilllin – The Magic Bullet (SBS TV/RDF Media/The History Channel), and producer of Troubled Minds – the lithium revolution (Film Australia/SBS) which won Britain’s premier science documentary prize, the Vega Award, and was a finalist at the Beijing International Science Documentary Awards.

Previous productions include AFI Award-winning documentaries, The Good Looker and Rainbow Bird and Monster Man, and the highly-acclaimed ABC TV art series, Eye to Eye with Betty Churcher. Also wrote, directed & produced the long-running ABC TV parliamentary program, Order in the House.

Published March 4, 2010

Email this article

Director Jeff Daniels



© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020