Drama of Li Lu's Life Recounted in Documentary Film

Photograph: Li Lu. Photo Credit: Gabriel A. Cooney.
Photograph: Li Lu in his Columbia apartment. At left, a replica of the Statue of Liberty that symbolized the goal of the Tiananmen Square demonstration in 1989.
Photograph: Chang Jin-Ming, left, portrays Li Lu as a 10-year old boy living amid the terror of Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution in Moving the Mountain.

"A bit strange and painful." That's how Li Lu, 29, described seeing his young life on the big screen.

Li, a Chinese student democracy leader and now a graduate student at Columbia, is the subject of Moving the Mountain, a cinematic account of the 1989 Chinese democracy movement that led to the Tiananmen Square massacre. The film opens at the Film Forum on Wed., Apr. 26, and will be shown through May 9.

Filmed in Beijing, Hong Kong and Taiwan, the documentary focuses primarily on Li, a student dissident leader who guided the movement through several demonstrations, a hunger strike and ultimately the government crackdown.

Hunted by the Chinese government, Li escaped to France and then the United States, where he became a student at Columbia, his grandfather's alma mater.

"It was painful to watch, to relive, because my life has not been a particularly smooth and normal one," he said in a recent interview. "Since coming to Columbia, I try to maintain a sense of normality in my life." Li, Columbia College '93, is enrolled in the J.D. and M.B.A. programs in the Law and Business schools, respectively.

Using archival footage and dramatic reenactment, the film recounts Li's early life, as he witnessed Mao's Cultural Revolution, the arrest and exile of his parents, and the great Tangshan earthquake of 1976 that killed 240,000 people and most of Li's adopted family and friends.

The decision to participate in the documentary was a difficult one, he said. The large-scale, long-term imprisonment of his friends and colleagues in the democracy movement, however, convinced him to work with Michael Apted, the director of the film, and Trudie Styler, the producer. Apted is the award-winning director of 35 Up, Incident at Oglala, Coal Miner's Daughter, Gorillas in the Mist and Nell.

"Little by little, I began to realize how difficult it was to mobilize support or obtain the release of the democracy movement participants," he said. "Unless the people of the world began to understand my colleagues in prison as individuals, to recognize themselves in those political prisoners, I could not expect the sustained interest needed to bring about success. I had to tell their stories, to give a face to a movement that would otherwise remain faceless."

The role of Li is played by Chang Jin-Ming as a 10-year-old and Huang Yi-Ming as a 4-year-old.

The winner of the International Documentary Association's prize for best documentary and the recipient of critical acclaim at the Toronto Film Festival, the film brings together five student leaders from Communist China's most-wanted list for the first time since the massacre. It also includes contraband footage shot in China by Apted under extremely difficult conditions.

Li credits his grandfather, Zhu Qi Xan, who received a doctorate from Teachers College in the 1940s, with inspiring him to become a political activist and Columbia student.

"I never met my grandfather," he said. "He died in prison when I was just a year old. But he left behind lots of unpublished manuscripts and I read them over and over. He was always a hero in my mind as I.grew up. That's partly why I chose to come to Columbia. My family has a heritage here. But that heritage is larger than that. It includes a heritage of certain ideals and principles. I feel that my grandfather got them from Columbia, and I have received them from both my grandfather and Columbia."

For the Film Forum schedule, call 727-8110.

Columbia University Record -- April 28, 1995 -- Vol. 20, No. 26