Independent Chinese filmmaker Liu Yimu has demanded a public explanation from authorities after raw footage for his planned documentary was deleted by state security police in his hometown of Changsha, the capital of Hunan province.
Liu, who had recently finished interviewing 23 local people, including democracy activists and petitioners, was about to begin editing the film, "These Changsha People," when police intervened, he told RFA's Mandarin Service this week.
On Jan. 11, they ordered him to halt production, as their "leaders" were very concerned by the film, without specifying which leaders.
Liu said all of his interviewees had "different political views," and that the film, while avoiding highly sensitive material, had been intended as a channel for communication between local people and officials.
"Changes are taking place in every city, and someone should be doing something to document them," he said.
"We wanted to use verbal descriptions and objective documentary to show the actual lives of people in different social classes."
State security police deleted the original footage as shot by Liu and his team since Jan. 3, however.
Cheng Qiubo, who worked with Liu on the film, said documentary films in China usually only represent the view of the government.
"In documentary, the state media ... uses only one model and one voice," he told New Tang Dynasty Television in a recent interview.
"We wanted to record and to observe society as it truly is."
Liu said state security police had initially approached him and questioned him about the project shortly after it began.
Interviewees included independent labor leader Zhang Jingsheng, a student follower of late supreme leader Mao Zedong, petitioners, forced evictees, and veterans rights activists, including retired People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers.
Liu also spoke to university professors, lawyers, fashion models, and entrepreneurs.
Cheng told NTDTV: "The producers feared oppression by the regime, so they decided not to include anything that would be deemed too sensitive by the regime: they took a neutral stance."
Liu said he has since lodged a formal request for public disclosure regarding the deletion of his raw footage, but has yet to receive a reply.
Last year, the ruling Chinese Communist Party stepped up a nationwide crackdown on independent filmmakers and festivals, rounding up film students who attended an independent film summer school in Beijing last July.
Employees told RFA at the time that the Li Xianting Film Foundation and its sister project the Beijing Independent Film Festival (BIFF) are no stranger to harassment from the authorities.
The BIFF and the school are hotbeds of fresh documentary talent intent on filming topics and stories that the authorities would rather didn't reach the public domain.
Meanwhile, the Yunnan Multicultural Visual Festival, which showcases some of China's most influential and cutting-edge documentaries, was forced to cancel a public screening in March.
Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.