LIU Announces Prestigious George Polk Award for Documentary Films

LIU Announces Prestigious George Polk Award for Documentary Films

Third Annual Award presented to “Hooligan Sparrow” with a screening at BAM


The George Polk Awards Brooklyn, NY (Feb. 20, 2017) – Hooligan Sparrow, a film that uses surreptitiously captured footage to document the persecution of a human rights activist in China, has won the third annual George Polk Documentary Film Award. Nanfu Wang, who was born in China and now lives in Brooklyn, is the director, editor, producer and cinematographer of the film, her feature debut.

The documentary won over five others selected by a screening committee and voted upon by the judges of the George Polk Awards in journalism. It will be shown at a special screening at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) at 7:30 pm on Wednesday, April 5. After the showing, Ms. Wang will be interviewed by Richard Pearce, the co-chair of the screening committee.

Hooligan Sparrow is a remarkable and courageous work,” said John Darnton, curator of the Polk Awards. “In filming it, in the face of intimidation by undercover security thugs, Ms. Wang herself turns into a dissident. She begins somewhat nervously, even timidly, and then becomes emboldened before our very eyes, employing wily devices like hidden-camera glasses and secret audio to get the documentation she needs. She smuggled the footage out of China.”

The film follows the tribulations of Ye Haiyan – a women’s rights activist known as “Hooligan Sparrow” – as she and a small band take up the cause of six elementary school girls in Hainan Province in southern China. The girls, aged 11 to 14, were kept overnight in a hotel and sexually abused by their principal, who escaped punishment by the dodge of charging they were prostitutes.

Ye Haiyan is tenacious and powerful (at one point she fends off a gang of brothel owners with a kitchen knife). By the film’s end, she manages to achieve a modicum of justice. But by then she has gone in and out of prison and she and her daughter have been evicted numerous times from homes and hotels. At one point mother and daughter sit forlornly on a country road in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a mound of their possessions – a sight that was meticulously recreated in an installation by Ai Weiwei shown in his 2014 retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum.

Last year’s Polk Documentary Film winner was Cartel Land by Matthew Heineman, a look at vigilante groups taking on Mexican drug cartels on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border.