March 20, 2009 / 5:57 AM / 10 years ago

Chinese Oscar-winner happy despite lack of audience

BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - Oscar-winning filmmaker Ruby Yang knows her documentary on AIDS will probably never be widely shown in China, the country in which it was made and where she now calls home, but she’s fine with that.

Yang and partner Thomas Lennon won the Oscar in 2007 for “The Blood of Yingzhou District,” which tells the story of traditional Chinese family obligations colliding with the fear of AIDS in impoverished Anhui province, and the fate of those left behind.

Yet it has never been officially released in China nor shown on state television, and probably never will be, due in part to its sensitive subject matter.

But Yang says just being able to raise awareness about AIDS in China amongst policy-makers and health professionals has been enough of a reward.

“I think, in a way, the film has been seen by a lot of the Health Ministry people and they use it for training. So I think that’s really reached our goal,” the softly spoken Yang told Reuters this week in an interview.

“Just last December, someone sent me a link which said Premier Wen Jiabao went into the same house in which we filmed three orphans,” said Yang, speaking on the sidelines of an event organized by New York’s Barnard College.

“It made me and my colleagues so happy, because really it reached the goal. We couldn’t have imagined that that would have happened four or five years ago when we first started.”

The government has promised to hand out free, Chinese-made drugs to anyone infected with the disease and the country’s leaders have met some of those living with HIV/AIDS, but there is still widespread ignorance about how it is spread.

Two thirds of the 6,000 people questioned for a UNAIDS survey last year in six cities said they would be unwilling to live with an infected person, and a fifth said they would be unwilling to care even for a relative with the illness.

China officially has more than 700,000 people living with HIV/AIDS and new infections are rising fast.

Yang is not frightened away from sensitive or taboo topics. She has also done a documentary on gay Chinese men, called “Tongzhi in Love,” using a word which literally means “comrade” but which is now slang for gay in China.

And it’s another film that will probably never get much screen time in China.

“The subjects being filmed preferred not to be shown publicly in China because they have not yet told their parents,” said Yang, whose own mother wanted her to go into business.

The Hong Kong-born Yang is now working on a film about clean water in China, to come out next year, though she is coy on the details.

Even with the publicity the Oscar generated — the statue now sits in her Beijing office next to her desk — Yang said it has not helped her raise money for new projects.

“China moves very fast, and people have forgotten about it. People still remember Ruby, the film and the Oscar, but for us to fundraise we are still going down the same difficult road. It’s good for the issue, but not so much for fundraising,” she said.

Editing by Ken Wills and Miral Fahmy

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