Cinema Libre // 2013 // 62 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // October 16th, 2013
Human rights abuse knows no borders.
In 1992, Li Hongzhi introduced Falun Gong to China, a mode of Buddhist practice that emphasizes morality and virtue in the quest for spiritual enlightenment. The Chinese population quickly took to his teachings and within a few years, followers of the practice were estimated in the millions. During those first few years, the Chinese government embraced it, even allowing Li Hongzhi access to government buildings to teach his philosophy. By the end of the decade, though, as their numbers grew, China made them officially enemies of the state, outlawing the practice and arresting its practitioners en masse, who were sent to labor camps and tortured until they recanted. Today, hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong members are thought to be imprisoned extra judicially, and while numbers are unclear, Amnesty International and other organizations have condemned China for what they've done to the Falun Gong.
If systematic abduction and torture isn't bad enough, according to director Masha Savitz in her documentary Red Reign, there is something even more horrific occurring. Based around a 2006 report by former Canadian Cabinet Minister David Kilgour and human rights attorney David Matas, Red Reign alleges that Chinese prisons have long been harvesting the organs of unwilling Falun Gong members for profit. And we're not talking just about hearts and livers here: everything from skin to corneas is up for grabs for the right price.
The problem, and it's a big one, is that most of the evidence that this is taking place is circumstantial, based around conjectures, eyewitness testimony, and logical steps for which there is no direct, provable link. Matas, in the film, is the first to admit this, but here's what we do know.
Falun Gong persecution is an official policy of China. Their torture is certainly real; much evidence exists to support this notion. Over the years, China has defunded its hospital system, leaving individual hospitals to come up with their own ways to support themselves. Their organ transplant business (which is very real) provides much of this profit, and people go to China from across the globe to take advantage of low prices and short wait times. Where it takes nearly three years in the West to acquire, say, a liver, Chinese hospitals brag on their websites about their ability to deliver one in a week, suited to the specific patient's blood type. Of the 60,000 transplants performed in China from 2000 to 2005, more than two-thirds of the organs came from unidentifiable sources. All this in a country that regards organ donation as a deep taboo.
Again, circumstantial, but these organs have to come from somewhere. With the lifespan of an organ outside the body ranging from a day to just a few hours, they have to come from somewhere fast. So what's going on? It's difficult to say because, aside from the testimonies of the few survivors who have escaped and the ex-wife of one of the doctors involved, China's information machine stays hard at work keeping records away from investigators and preventing anybody from inspecting the camps where they're thought to be held. The result is that, while Amnesty International expresses concern, they can't prove that it's actually happening.
Additionally, governments and organizations have disputed parts of the original report, suggesting that there are enough logical inferences to call it into question. To look at those disputes, there are only questions and no rebuttals, but that doesn't invalidate the doubt. Unfortunately, Red Reign doesn't bring any of these doubters into their film. While Matas does acknowledge the lack of hard evidence, the film treats the subject as absolutely true and, this, we cannot know for sure.
Still, Savitz makes a compelling case, one that warrants continued observation, at the very least. The documentary isn't particularly artful; it's just a series of interviews alongside archival footage, but this is a film more interested in enlightening viewers than entertaining them.
The disc from Cinema Libre is average, but completely acceptable. The 1.78:1 image looks fine, although the mish-mash of footage means that it varies in quality. The stereo sound is perfectly fine, with easily audible dialog, but it's absolutely nothing special. The only extra is a trailer.
If this is true, and I must stress that if, then this is a travesty that must be recognized and stopped. While Savitz makes a very good argument, it doesn't seal the deal like one might hope. Still, it's a good film about a crazy subject, though with a topic like organ harvesting, Red Reign is really not particularly fun to watch. It's interesting, informative, and totally scary, though, so completely worth watching.
Not guilty, but only for a lack of evidence.
Review content copyright © 2013 Daryl Loomis; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Cinema Libre
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 62 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
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