In July 2013, POV caught up with Stephen Maing, Director of High Tech, Low Life to find out what’s happened since the camera stopped rolling.
POV: What has happened in the lives of Zola and Tiger Temple since the end of this film?
Since the end of the film, Zola has moved to live with his new wife in Taipei where he continues to actively microblog and freelance as a social media and technical consultant for NGOs. To evade censors, some Chinese netizens have been known to convert text messages to image files like jpegs, so Zola has been working on projects to convert and archive social media messages for future historical records before they are censored or deleted from the web, using optical character recognition software (OCR). Among numerous issues Zola has written about recently, he has also been investigating land disputes in his hometown of Fengmuqiao where villagers have been complaining of government abuses. Zola was also invited with the film to the Movies that Matter Festival in The Hague, where he was honored with a laureate for his efforts to defend human rights.
After being pushed out of Beijing as seen at the end of the film, Tiger Temple relocated to Shanxi Province where he has stayed with his elderly mother. Earlier this year he organized a book reading and discussion at the Xi’an International Studies University where he led discussions on John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” and Robert Dahl’s “On Democracy.” Tiger Temple has continued to report on numerous social issues cases including the illegal detainment of a woman at a secret “black prison” site in the Taihang Mountains in April, 2013. In May 2013, five of his ten blogs were shutdown, forcing him to migrate content to other accounts. Tiger Temple recently embarked on another annual trip through the Northwest of China and has been finishing a book called “Reports on Chinese Northern Villages.” On this recent trip he has traveled to the Maowusu Desert as well as Er Lou Village to check up on the villagers featured in the film. A sewage processing plant was built in the recent years but they unfortunately have not yet received compensation for their losses.
Since filming ended, Tiger Temple has also been exploring an interest in documentary filmmaking and acquired an HD camera for some new long-form film projects.
Mongolia the cat is well and continues to stay with friends of Tiger Temple’s. He eagerly awaits reuniting with Tiger someday in the future.
POV: How have audiences reacted to the film?
Audiences seem to appreciate the film for its intimate access and nuanced portrayal of real people’s lives as they are impacted by censorship. Part of our hope was to try and make a film that complicated what people think they know about censorship in China through more observational character-driven filmmaking. I think audiences have responded well to the decision to create this kind of intimate access so viewers can see and assess the public and personal risks and challenges for themselves.
POV: Has the film screened in China? What’s the reaction been there?
We look forward to any opportunity to share the film with Chinese audiences in the future.
Zola recently did a small screening for friends in Beijing and said the feedback was “absolutely positive!”
POV: What are you working on next?
Moving forward, there are a handful of documentary and narrative ideas I’d love to make in the future. Some that relate to China and others that take place closer to home. I’m slowly developing each, so with a little luck hopefully one will work out.