A Uyghur Tale
By Alex Kats
Last week I was privileged to see the controversial film about Rebiya Kadeer at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF).
In the lead up to the festival, English director, Ken Loach, who had previously premiered a number of his films at the festival, announced that he would pull out of the festival if the festival continued to take support from the Israeli embassy. Luckily for the sake of sanity and morality, MIFF director, Richard Moore, called Loach’s bluff and announced that he would rather have Israeli films than Loach’s, and thus Loach pulled himself and his film out of the festival.
When another controversy reared its head, this time concerning China, Moore again stood up for what was right.
More than seven years ago, Jeff Daniels, an American (now living in Melbourne) teacher turned filmmaker, visited a friend in Beijing and came across the name of a people he had never heard of. The Uyghur people come from East Turkestan. Their province borders Tibet, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, and China, and about 60 years ago, China invaded and annexed the land.
They called it Xinjiang, which means ‘new territory’ and although it was intended to be an autonomous region, it has become one of the most oppressed regions in all of China. The Uyghur people have their own language, culture, heritage, religion and land, but all of these have been taken away or diluted since Chinese rule. Many thousands of people in the region have been murdered simply for their opinions; let alone for their actions.
On that journey, the curious filmmaker decided to make a documentary about the Uyghur people and in particular, about their charismatic and very vibrant leader, Rebiya Kadeer.
Kadeer became an activist for the rights of her people as a teenager. Over the years, she has also become one of the wealthiest women in China, but not without a lot of hardship. Her children were taken away from her and she was imprisoned for more than five years, spending most of that time in solitary confinement.
Now in exile in Washington, she is the president of the international Uyghur association.
Daniels, a Jew from the Bronx, had previously made small documentaries about Jewish identity and the struggle of minorities. For the past seven years he has been documenting the plight of the Uyghurs and the unadulterated drive of Kadeer.
The name of the film, The 10 Conditions of Love, comes from the conditions that Kadeer set herself when she went in search of a husband who would also be a partner in her work. (She found him and they are still together.) The title, however, also alludes to China’s 10 conditions for the transition to Communism.
Part of the story follows Kadeer’s advocacy in Washington on behalf of her people. When making representations to government, one of her strongest allies for a number of years was the late Tom Lantos. He was the only Congressman to have also been a Holocaust survivor, and as a Jew, like the filmmaker, he felt strongly about the passion of this minority leader.