The Making Of

A filmmaker holding a camera and microphone films a girl wearing a white shirt and a red necktie in front of a blackboard and an image of the Chinese flag

Producer Don Edkins talks about setting up the election experiment, how noisy children can be and why the film is not being shown in China.

What led you to make this film?

We wanted to make a film in China that addressed the question of democracy.

Will this film be broadcast in China?

The film will not be seen officially in China; the Chinese government will not allow it because the topic is sensitive.

How did you set up the democracy experiment in the classroom and get permission to conduct it?

Weijun Chen, the director, contacted the teachers and school and got to know everyone involved, including the students. The school then gave him permission to make the film. Each school year, monitors are appointed, and so he used this activity with the changes agreed and approved by the teachers and parents. He had to negotiate with the school, because in the beginning they were not so keen. The families and children were all very happy to get involved in the activity.

How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film?

The filmmaker is from the same city in China, and a colleague of his is also the parent of one of the candidates.

Have the children and their families seen the film? If so, what do they think of it?

Cheng Cheng and his mother have seen the film, the others not yet. They think it’s a great film, and that it is a pity that the film cannot be screened in China. Cheng Cheng especially thinks that he has learnt a lot from this type of election—he can be more brave in expressing himself in public. His mother thought it was a good way to elect the monitor of the class, and that it is not wrong to teach kids about politics even though that is an adult activity. Weijun thinks that Cheng Cheng learnt a lot from the elections, and the teacher has now appointed him her assistant—which Cheng Cheng thinks is a more powerful position than monitor—and so he is happy.

What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?

The fact that democracy is not an issue that can be openly discussed in China.

Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.

I think that would be the scene where Xu Xaiofei broke down during her performance in front of the class when they were instigated by the other two candidates to shout her down.

Were there any technical challenges you faced while shooting, and if so, how did you resolve them?

The noise level of the grade eight children! Using radio mics helped keep the track clean for the main characters.

What has the audience response been so far?

The film has not yet been shown in Wuhan due to the sensitivity of the political situation where discussing democracy is seen as a matter of state security. Audiences at festivals in other parts of the world where the film has so far been shown have been very enthusiastic and positive in their response.

The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?

Making films like this one!

Why did you choose to present your film on public television?

To reach a large audience in the USA, and to have the backing of the support services of PBS, Independent Lens and ITVS to generate a comprehensive outreach program that allows people to discuss and understand the issues raised in the film.

Read about the filmmakers >>

Learn about China's One-Child Policy >>

View a timeline of democracy in China >>

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