Ben Klein and Violet Columbus’ The Exiles, which tracks down three exiled dissidents from the Tiananmen Square massacre, in order to find closure on an abandoned film Christine Choy began shooting with Renee Tajima-Peña in 1989, has won the 2022 Sundance U.S. Grand Jury Prize in the Documentary category.
Brash and opinionated, Christine Choy is a documentarian, cinematographer, professor, and quintessential New Yorker whose films and teaching have influenced a generation of artists. In 1989 she and Renee Tajima-Peña started to film the leaders of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests who escaped to political exile following the June 4 massacre. Though they never finished that project, Choy now travels with the old footage to Taiwan, Maryland, and Paris in order to share it with the dissidents who have never been able to return home.
In their debut feature, directors Violet Columbus and Ben Klein follow Choy, deftly moving between her original footage of Chinese exiles in the immediate, traumatic aftermath of Tiananmen and the present day’s clear-eyed realization that the past 30-plus years have not fulfilled their hopes and dreams for their country and themselves. Driven by the iconoclastic voice of Choy and illuminated by the power of film to both traverse and destroy the experience of time, The Exiles brings modern history and the struggle for democracy to human scale by considering the individual costs of a life dedicated to self-expression.