For over ten years, the general public has known relatively little about the realities of torture committed against Falun Gong practitioners in Chinese prisons. The Chinese communist regime has worked overtime to ensure it stays that way, implementing a rigorous propaganda campaign to malign the practice and suppress the truth inside and outside China.
With the arrival of Sandstorm in New York and Los Angeles, these harsh realities can be experienced in a compelling and ultimately uplifting film.
Michael Mahonen’s fact-based drama accurately and sensitively portrays this dire situation in post 1999 mainland China, following the order from former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin to systematically wipe out the popular practice.
Based on actual survivor accounts, Mahonen tells the story of a man, (played convincingly by newcomer, Rong Tian), who has been trapped with his wife for twelve days in a massive sandstorm without electricity or provisions. We learn that he is a police officer, instructed by his superiors from the Gestapo-like 610 Office, to “reeducate” the Falun Gong adherents “at any cost.”
Days pass, rations diminish, and the officer watches his wife wither away as we witness, in a series of flashbacks, the actions which have led to these circumstances.
Most heartrending in this tale, is the detained Falun Gong practitioner, (Lili Li) who demonstrates remarkable courage, conviction, and forbearance during severe torture to break her faith. Despite the officers’ inhumane brutality, she actually remains concerned for her torturers’ well being. She warns them of the consequences they will have to face for the actions of killing and harming innocent people.
Sandstorm is Mahonen’s first project as writer and director. His earlier work found him on the other side of the camera as and award winning actor starring in films and TV.
Initially learning of the persecution in China in 1999, Mahonen started to practice the meditation discipline Falun Gong in 2001 after finding an informational flier outside his apartment door. After he began to understand the effect of the Chinese regime’s propaganda-machine, he was moved to expose their atrocities and communicate the truth about these kind hearted people who were being victimized.
“I had been interested in writing and directing for a number of years,” Mahonen explains in a phone interview from Toronto. “After I started practicing Falun Gong, I read the teachings and realized the extent to which the propaganda and misinformation put out by the Chinese regime had been deceiving people, both inside and outside China.”
His target audience, he explained, were the police in China. He wanted to present them with a third person perspective of themselves in order to help them see their actions more clearly.
In 2003, without experience or financial resources, Mahonen set out with only an earnest dedication and righteous purpose to make Sandstorm. The cast and crew all volunteered their time and talent with many working on a film for the first time.
His background as an actor was a particular asset. “With a character driven film you need strong performances. My acting experience allowed me to help the actors feel relaxed and confident and to make the roles their own.”
What he learned from this remarkable endeavor is “If the intention is good, a lot can be achieved.”
Since then, the film has been screened around the world, translated into approximately 15 languages, and lauded with 29 festival awards, including best feature film, best dramatic film, best director, best actress, and best screenplay.
One highlight of the multiple festivals Mahonen attended has been the question and answer sessions following the screenings. “During the screenings it was common to hear people crying. At the Q&A’s people often expressed their anger toward the persecution and a desire to help in some way.”
Sandstorm will run in a special limited engagement in New York at the Village East Cinema at 2nd Ave and 12th street, playing from September 4-10 with multiple screenings everyday. There is a special "Meet the Director" reception on Friday, September 4, after the 7:30pm show, with a Q&A to follow in the lobby of the Village East Cinema.
Sandstorm will then screen for a limited engagement in Los Angeles, running from September 11–17 at the Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills. Director Michael Mahonen will be attend a reception on Friday, September 11, after the 7:15pm show with a Q&A to follow at the Writers Guild Theatre.
Fore more information, visit www.sandstormmovie.com .