'Hooligan Sparrow': Sundance Review

Hooligan Sparrow still - H 2016
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
A daring exposé.

This jarring documentary on women's rights in China amid governmental intimidation premiered at Sundance.

She offered to work for free at one of China's brothels. That was an offer that the media couldn't refuse to cover, and Ye Haiyan gained notoriety, drawing attention to China's deplorable sex-services industry. Nicknamed “Hooligan Sparrow” for her vigilant promotion of women's rights in China, Ye Haiyan became a government target.

Hooligan Sparrow follows Ye Haiyan and her fellow activists, who protest a case where six elementary-school age girls were sexually abused by their principal. In that case, the Chinese educational/governmental bureaucracy protected the accused and began to apply pressure to Ye Haiyan for exposing this injustice. She had long been a target for her exposure of the harsh conditions of the brothels, which number in the thousands across China.

This guerrilla-style documentary is brave. The filmmaker, Nanfu Wang, also was subject to Chinese suppression and had to shoot this doc on the sly. Wang was under constant pressure, her equipment destroyed and her person threatened. Utilizing hidden-camera subterfuges and deceptively placed microphones, Wang has managed to uncover in the process another human-rights outrage in China, the thug-like nature of government's intrusion into private lives.

Nearly the entire film is shot with hand-held cameras, with only personal interviews conducted in a non-hostile situation. Throughout, Wang makes a virtue out of necessity: Her on-the-run scoping and jarring cuts infuse the film with a sense of desperate danger befitting its subject matter.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema Documentary)
Production companies: A Little Horse Crossing the River Production in association with AC Films and Diamond Docs
Director-producer-cinematographer-editor: Nanfu Wang
Screenwriters: Nanfu Wang, Mark Monroe
Executive producers: Andy Cohen, Alison Klayman
Music: Nathan Halpern, Chris Ruggiero

Not rated, 83 minutes