TORONTO—The documentary “The China Hustle,” which premiered recently at the Toronto International Film Festival, shows how hundreds of Chinese companies listed on North American stock exchanges can cause billions of losses to investors due to lack of proper oversight.

These Chinese firms enter the U.S. stock market through reverse takeovers with American companies and report revenues and assets that have no base in reality, thus inflating the companies’ stock value.

Making a story about complex financial transactions for the everyday viewer was one of the biggest challenges faced by Jed Rothstein, director of “The China Hustle.”

“Financial crimes are by their nature very complex; their complexity is what enables the fraud,” said Rothstein, the producer/director behind “Before the Spring After the Fall” and “Killing in the Name.”

“We tried to make it as easy to understand as possible while still making sure it’s accurate. … So that’s the challenge,” the filmmaker said in an interview.

Jed Rothstein, the director of “The China Hustle”, sits down for an interview with The Epoch Times on Sept. 9, 2017 during the Toronto International Film Festival. (Becky Zhou/The Epoch Times)

Among the market players featured in the documentary is Carson Block, founder of the investment research firm Muddy Waters, which was instrumental in the collapse of TSE-listed Sino-Forest, a forestry firm with claims of massive operations in China.

In July, the Ontario Securities Commission ruled that Sino-Forest and several of its executives defrauded investors and misled investigators.

Block and other researchers featured in the documentary used research teams to set up cameras and even conduct undercover visits to the operations facilities of the Chinese firms listed in the NYSE, often at great risk to the team members.

One of the researchers, Chinese-Canadian Kun Huang, was imprisoned for two years in China after the firm he worked for questioned the production claims of Silvercorp Metals Inc., a Vancouver-based company with operations in China. Huang has now launched a lawsuit against Silvercorp, alleging that it colluded with local authorities in China to have him arrested.

“I think that there are a lot of opportunities to invest and make money all over the world, but when the rules of the markets can’t be translated across the same borders that money can, it creates opportunity for fraud, like we saw in the ‘China Hustle’ film,” Rothstein said.

With reporting by Becky Zhou

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Mention the name “Joshua Wong,” and anyone vaguely interested in the Umbrella Movement and other pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong over the last four years will remember a skinny kid with rectangular black framed glasses.

Wong the high school student-activist turned college activist-politician, remains one of the most iconic public figures in Hong Kong today. In the new documentary film “Joshua: Teenager vs Superpower,” director Joe Piscatella captures the drama behind Wong’s attempts in opposing the Chinese Communist Party’s erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese territory.

The documentary moves chronologically from early 2012 to September 2016, and follows Joshua Wong through the highs and lows of activist and political career—the sit-in outside Hong Kong government headquarters in 2012 to protest a controversial school syllabus that Hongkongers denounced as communist indoctrination; the storming of the same government compound two years later which led to his arrest but also triggered mass street occupations; Wong’s painful but futile hunger strike in a last ditch effort to rekindle Hongkongers’ enthusiasm for the street occupations; and Wong’s fellow activist-turned-politician Nathan Law winning a seat in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council in 2016.  

The 78-minute documentary also features interviews with Joshua Wong and his family, as well as his longtime activist buddies, and weaves in commentary from journalists, scholars, and a veteran figure in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

Producer Andrew Duncan had learned about Wong after meeting Matthew Torne, the director of a 2014 documentary about the protests against “national education” which featured Wong and another teenage activist. When the Umbrella Movement street occupations broke out in 2014, Duncan decided to tell the story of Joshua’s activist life, and connected Torne with Piscatella.

Piscatella was aware who Joshua Wong was, but got a much better sense of what Wong meant to Hongkongers during the filming in Hong Kong. “Everybody knew who Joshua is,” he said over the telephone. “There was a popularity and familiarity with him.”

During the Umbrella protests, Piscatella was involved in some scenes with Wong where the Hong Kong police used pepper spray and wielded batons. “Nobody was hurt, but it’s a moment as a filmmaker where you realize that there are real stakes here,” Piscatella said.

Joshua Wong is perhaps most conscious of what is at stake.

“The Communist Party of China interferes with the autonomy of Hong Kong, and erodes the universal values we believe in, be it human rights or future independence,” he said in a telephone interview.

Wong says that he’d have stood up to the Party even if there wasn’t an attempt by the Beijing-influenced Hong Kong government to introduce “national education” in Hong Kong’s schools.

“I may not stand in the frontlines as an organizer of a movement,” Wong said. “I may just be a normal petitioner. But I will still fight for democracy, even though my position may be different.”

Going by director Joe Piscatella’s documentaton of Wong’s day-to-day grind before shooting to fame—Wong speaking through megaphones and mics at busy street corners; Wong holding recruitment drives for his student activist group; and Wong attending school classes and going to church—there’s reason to believe in his straightforward idealism.

If there’s one angle missing in Piscatella’s storytelling, however, it’s the lack of nuance in explaining the Chinese Communist Party’s operations in Hong Kong.

In the documentary, Joshua Wong and several commentators view current Chinese leader Xi Jinping as the chief boogeyman behind Hong Kong’s recent troubles. But the political rivals of Xi control the power networks in Hong Kong, and have been deliberately stirring up trouble in the city to embarrass and undermine Xi—a phenomenon long reported by this newspaper that has been signaled repeatedly by a pro-Beijing Hong Kong newspaper in recent months.

But for Wong, Communist Party infighting doesn’t concern his own activism.

“I would say that no matter the conflict inside the ruling class or the Communist Party, it wouldn’t affect our persistence to fight for democracy,” he said over the telephone.

Joshua Wong’s single-minded dedication to the social movement in Hong Kong has already cost him the relatively more carefree days of a regular teenager—the documentary features a farewell party for Wong’s student activist group Scholarism where the youngsters toast to their “wasted youth.”

But Wong doesn’t plan to stop his activism until “Hong Kong is Hong Kong again.”

The world premiere for “Joshua: Teenager vs Superpower” was held at Sundance Festival 2017 in Park City, Utah on January 20. Public screenings of the documentary at Park City run till January 27.  

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  • Author: <a href="" rel="author">Larry Ong</a>, <a href="" title="Epoch Times" rel="publisher">Epoch Times</a>
  • Category: General

Ye Haiyan holds a protest sign in the film “Hooligan Sparrow,” which is also her nickname as a women's rights activist. (Courtesy Hooligan Sparrow)Ye Haiyan holds a protest sign in the film “Hooligan Sparrow,” which is also her nickname as a women's rights activist. (Courtesy Hooligan Sparrow)

LOS ANGELES—Filmmaker Nanfu Wang, based in New York City, filmed her first feature documentary in China on a trip to visit a provocative women’s rights activist nicknamed “Hooligan Sparrow.” She said that during that summer trip she was deeply shocked by the events she witnessed in her home country.

“All I wanted to do at the moment was I wanted to document it,” she said. “I wanted to show the world. I wanted people to see it.”

The film is named after “Hooligan Sparrow,” whose real name is Ye Haiyan. In the film, Ye leads a group of activists and lawyers in protest of the rape of six girls aged 11 to 14 in Hainan Province, where they were taken to a hotel by their principal and a government official. The girls were missing for nearly 24 hours and were paid the equivalent of US$2,000 after the incident.

Wang interviewed parents of the children in the film, who explained to her exactly what happened. But when lawyers sought to represent the parents, they refused, saying they were warned by officials not to go to court.

Powerful sexual offenders in China often avoid lengthy jail sentences by arguing that they paid the victims money and were merely involved in child prostitution, explained Wang. “Sparrow” and other activists wanted to draw attention to this case to help people understand that such actions should clearly constitute sexual abuse and rape.

At the protest, human rights lawyer Wang Yu handed out copies of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which China is bound to follow, to families in front of the Wanning No. 2 Elementary School. The CRC is the most ratified of all UN treaties and is considered the most complete guide for the protection of children under the age of 18.

During a protest in front of Wanning No.2 Elementary School in Hainan Province, lawyer Wang Yu is shown handing out the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. (Courtesy Hooligan Sparrow)

The CRC states, “Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse.”

Ye and others involved in the protest, including Wang, are soon harassed and interrogated. Ye is arrested and evicted from her home, although she is a single mother with a daughter. Lawyer Wang Yu is eventually detained and charged with subverting the government.

Meanwhile, Wang’s cameras are destroyed, yet she is able to keep shooting with secret recording devices, preserving enough footage to smuggle out of the country for her film.

During the entire process, Wang discovers a frightening number of plainclothes security officials on the streets of China, practically indistinguishable from ordinary citizens. Her fear grows, for this is a part of the country she had not been aware of before, even though she lived there for more than 20 years.

“I was really scared and I had nightmares almost every night,” said Wang. “What we witnessed was something that the government didn’t want people to see.”

The result is a picture of how far the communist regime of China is willing to go to silence any information, any truth that might awaken the widespread mistrust of the general public and threaten the absolute rule of the one-party system. It also highlights the problem of corruption that seems to be integrated into the very fabric of the entire system.

But most importantly, the film demonstrates the desperate need to solve a very basic fundamental challenge for the Chinese people.

“The biggest problem is there is very limited information in China,” said Wang. “The narrative that people often got was from the state TV and newspaper, and there’s very rarely any counter-narrative.”

Wang said she showed human rights lawyer Wang Yu a rough cut of her film. The lawyer said to her, “I’m really glad that you documented everything. But this is just one case. And if you follow me, as I go to defend other cases, every case is just as dramatic, just as severe as this one, and things like this are happening in China anywhere and any time.”

Wang hopes that her film, and other such independent films, can help the Chinese people become aware of what their country’s leaders seek to hide from them.

“Hooligan Sparrow” received support from organizations such as the Sundance Institute and the Independent Filmmaker Project, and it was an official selection at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, Human Rights Watch Film Festival, as well as numerous others.

Among its awards are the grand jury and best director prize for documentaries at the 32nd annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival in April. The documentary film made its Los Angeles theatrical debut on July 29 and will premiere on PBS October 17.

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