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Slamdance 2020 Review: “Ask No Questions” (2020) ★★★★


The propaganda tool has always been strong not only in China but during and after the fall of the Soviet Union. As someone who is from the former USSR, I know quite well the way state media works and the information they try to feed into people’s heads. Therefore, it was not surprising seeing what has been told in “Ask No Questions”, which is one of the most important documentaries to date. Indeed, when the government wants to blame someone for something or use a certain event as a triggering point, it starts something unthinkable to promote it to the level where the whole world will discuss something that’s being ‘staged’ cleverly by the government.

“Ask No Questions” is a powerful documentary film from Jason Loftus and talks about the events that took place back on January 23, 2001, when five people arrived at Tiananmen Square for self-immolation. As the actual event is being later disputed, CNN’s Lisa Weaver also believes it has been staged. The Chinese state television blames the members of  Falun Gong, the spiritual group that’s banned by China. Chen Ruichang, the person who worked for state television is detained and sent to the re-educational camp created for people that work on TV, a brainwashing facility to break him physically, emotionally, and psychologically to the point where he begins seeing the only reality – one offered by the government.

Jason Loftus, writer and director of “Ask No Questions”, thoroughly provides a case through his documentary by offering insightful interviews from Lisa Weaver and many others who investigate the self-immolation and why the actual tragedy was helpful to the Chinese government. When the film opens, we find five people on fire, including a mother-daughter duo, which, in a way, was shocking to process. However, as you watch it, you begin understanding how it all could have been a government plot in order to reduce the presence of Falun Gong and have the world talking about it so that China could benefit.

Frankly, “Ask No Questions” is the perfect title for a documentary such as this but you can’t help it as it raises more questions in terms of how far governments can go to control people. As the government adviser says, “Pure violence does not work. Just studying does not work either. None of it would be working if the propaganda hadn’t started to change the way the general public thinks,” which perfectly explains why the Chinese government was successful in persuading five people to set themselves on fire in exchange for money to the family or something else.

Not to reveal much, Jason Loftus’ film is not easy to watch. But it helps to understand what happens around the world. It captures the viciousness of the Chinese government and how easily they can play with people’s lives. Using its own citizens as pawns, it can change any event in any way they want. And sadly, that is what happens when people have no right to oppose it. As there is a lot to process from what you’re about to see, be prepared to witness a remarkable and heartbreaking story that will shatter your mind and shake you to the core. Because stories like this is crucial for the next generation to stop idealizing people, as whatever we do, we tend to repeat the same mistake – causing pain to others when we should have done everything in our power to reduce it.

According to Chinese state media, a group of seven people had travelled to Beijing from Henan province, and five set themselves on fire on Tiananmen Square.[6] One of them, Liu Chunling, died at Tiananmen under disputed circumstances, and another, 12-year-old Liu Siying, reportedly died in hospital several weeks later; three survived. The incident received international news coverage, and video footage was broadcast a week later in the People’s Republic of China by China Central Television (CCTV).[

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