Travelling the world, looking for films and funding for a ten-part BBC series, I find that dreams of a democratic world are as strong as everby Nick Fraser / October 27, 2007 / Leave a comment
April 2004. In Tiananmen Square, standing under the giant image of Mao and surrounded by bright dragon kites, the oddity of my assignment finally strikes home. Twenty-odd young Chinese intellectuals have come to the basement of a Beijing hotel in order to pitch ideas for ten films about democracy. One hopeful would like to show how it is becoming possible, by struggling against the authorities, to own an apartment. Another shows how peasants are beginning to take the Party to court for corruption.
With two colleagues from South Africa and Paris, I am here on behalf of the BBC. This is a bold project conceived six months previously on a bright day near a Cape Town beach in a moment of collective enthusiasm.
?A squat Chinese filmmaker with the confident manner of the young Orson Welles gets to his feet. He explains to us that there is no point in looking for definitions of democracy in a country where it isn’t allowed to flourish. “Bureaucrats rule in China,” he says. “To be a bureaucrat you must be a Communist, and this is why every child wants to be a Communist.” He propose s to film in a schoolroom, where children will be given basic rules and encouraged to formulate their own democracy. “We have elections that are organised by the Party,” he says. “This will be the first real election—in which children choose their own class monitor. And this way we’ll see what democracy in China could be like.” The idea instantly appeals to us (see right). May 2004. At pitches, we are asked whether we employ democratic methods when selecting films. Within Steps International, our tiny NGO based in Denmark, we do not make decisions by majority vote. The old anti-democratic habits of editorial individualism die hard, and for some colleagues, my own excessive use of the first person appears inappropriate, if not offensive. Meetings sometime descend into procedural wrangling; and as chairman I periodically despair of my own lack of political skills.
A meeting with London producers reveals a high degree of cynicism. We try to explain that this is not a Unicef Christmas card venture celebrating democratic good feelings. The question of whether the world is becoming more democratic is an important one. We have received more than 500 proposals online, but few seem viable. We fret over the poor quality of the projects received from…