23 October 2016
In the short film A Decision, a man (inset) struggles over whether he should help a kidnapped female activist. Photo: YouTube
In the short film A Decision, a man (inset) struggles over whether he should help a kidnapped female activist. Photo: YouTube

One Decision, two sides of humanity

Less than two weeks after the downing of a Russian airliner in Egypt, a terrible tragedy happened in Paris.

ISIS massacred 130 people in different locations in a coordinated attack.

The world is becoming more and more unstable and dangerous.

Many people ask why atrocities like these happen and try to answer the question from a social, historical, religious or cultural perspective.

Young filmmaker Zhang Xu (張序) believes that the cause of these tragic social events is our own humanity.

Human nature can be kind, beautiful and promising, as well as selfish, cruel and ugly.

In her recently released films — En Route and A Decision — which have won multiple awards in various film festivals, Zhang explores human nature on both sides.

The short firm A Decision, written and directed by Zhang, is a fictional work inspired by Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiao Bo and his wife, social activist Liu Xia.

It delves into their respective arrests (the latter is under house arrest).

The film, set in a post-apocalyptic world, tells the story from a neighbor’s point of view.

It shows a single father’s moral dilemma — stand up for his activist neighbor who is under house arrest or stay silent to protect his five-year-old son.

When politics are divorced from daily life, it’s easy to criticize things and events.

However, when bad things happen next door, people stay silent.

In the film, single father Paul is haunted by the thought of someone being taken away by the secret police.

His reality is worse — he witnesses his neighbor, 28-year-old female social activist Lin being persecuted by the authorities.

Paul chooses to step away and pretends nothing is happening next door but he is morally tormented by his behavior.

From nobody Paul to British Prime Minister David Cameron, everybody has to make his or her decisions.

Whether to be courageous and speak out for justice, or avoid and deny the facts for personal safety or to protect national interest, such decisions are not easy.

At the end of the film, Paul wakes up from an even worse nightmare — he sees himself being taken away.

That’s when he sits in front of his computer, debating with himself whether or not to report what happened to his neighbor.

The film raises a sharp and powerful question to the audience and tests their humanity, too. If you were Paul, what would you do?

A Decision was nominated for best short film in the 22nd Visionaria Film Festival in Siena, Italy. and the First International Peace and Film Festival in Orlando, Florida.

It won for best original score in the 2015 Asians On Film Festival.

Zhang’s En Route explores the bright side of human nature.

In contrast to the bleakness of A Decision, warmth and sweetness pervades En Route.

The story is set in a coastal town in the south of Europe, where a train passes laden with strangers in three compartments.

In one, a stressed-out British couple with a screaming baby find themselves seated next to a wild Roma woman.

In the next shot, a Middle Eastern man having an early mid-life crisis sits with a German woman having a full-blown crisis.

He speaks Assyrian and she speaks German.

In the last, a deaf brother and sister have to find a way to help an Asian backpacker who is on the wrong train.

The film was nominated in major film festivals such as Cannes, Leeds International and the Washington DC International Film Festival.

It won Best Short Film honors in the Afterglow Film Festival and Navi Mumbai International Film Festival.

Zhang is working on a feature documentary about the Ukrainian crisis with his mentor, three-time Oscar Best Documentary winner Mark Jonathan Harris.

 A decision

 En Route

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