Towards the end of the 1970s, the Chinese authorities had a major problem. The population of the country was threatening to spiral out of control and while the birth rate had been in relative decline for decades life expectancy was shooting up. The measures they put in place failed to halt this seemingly inexorable rise, so in 1980 the Chinese Communist Party enacted a one-child policy which would continue until 2015.
Compliance with the one-child policy was policed by local officials whose attitude to those found to have broken the law differed over time and from place to place across this vast nation. When filmmaker Louis Hothothot was born in 1986, he was a ‘black’ second child. His father was fined three-years salary and his career aspirations were dead in the water. His mother faced forced sterilisation. He grew up with a sense of guilt and eventually left the country at the age of twenty. He returns five years after last seeing his parents and sister to try and make sense of their history.
Four Journeys is a fascinating portrait of the impact of Deng Xiaoping’s (et al) one-child policy on one Chinese family. In the course of his investigations, Hothothot uncovers a long-buried secret and exposes the divisions this law has created. It works best when he concentrates on his parents, but all too often the camera turns inwards and it doesn’t always do him any favours. That being said, Four Journeys is an intricate and multi-layered film which gives a unique insight into the impact of one of the most controversial state policies.
Four Journeys screens at International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam.