A revealing, personal exploration of the new frontier in China’s surveillance state—and the reality for those who challenge it.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2023
Biometric tech, big data and a state intolerant of dissent have delivered China the Social Credit System, a tool to chart the trustworthiness of citizens. Though officials insist it is less centralised and invasive than claimed, Total Trust reveals a mesh—many millions of peering cameras, facial and vocal recognition—that appears much like Bentham’s panopticon, though made all-seeing by not one but trillions of eyes.
At its heart, however, this is a collection of personal stories, chronicling the courageous efforts of human rights lawyers and the implications for them and their families through legal battles, social denunciation, and ultimately incarceration. Zhang Jialing, who now lives in the US, unable to return to China after the release of her Sundance-winning One Child Nation (NZIFF 2019), shot the entire film remotely. She eschews sweeping statements in favour of intimate scenes that paint the agonising, quotidian reality.
The film is “not just about China”, Zhang says. “We want the audience to look at their own countries.” Nor is it just about those whose heart-rending struggles are shown on screen. As one of the subjects in this chilling yet disarmingly tender film notes, the expectation of being watched is a censorship in itself. — Toby Manhire
“Zhang finds … notes of defiance and seeds of rebellion, especially among the young. Her chilling, damning film, directed from outside China with the help of dozens of anonymous local collaborators, stands as another piece of the resistance: a compelling warning of unchecked surveillance, holding an incriminating mirror to our would-be watchers.” — Nick Bradshaw, Sight and Sound