High tech, Low life (2012 / USA – China)

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Directed by Stephen Maing
(2012 / USA, China)


“As the Chinese government expands its efforts to “police the Internet” and block websites in the country, and television stations selectively report the news, the rising tide of censorship has aroused a wave of citizen reporters committed to investigating local news stories and crime scenes. This timely and probing documentary tracks rogue bloggers Zola and Tiger Temple as they risk political persecution to become China’s uncensored eyes and ears. In Mandarin with subtitles.

HIGH TECH, LOW LIFE follows the journey of two of China’s first citizen reporters as they travel the country – chronicling under reported news and social issues stories. Armed with laptops, cell phones, and digital cameras they develop skills as independent one-man news stations while learning to navigate China’s evolving censorship regulations and avoiding the risk of political persecution. 
The film follows 57-year-old “Tiger Temple,” who earns the title of China’s first citizen reporter after he impulsively documents an unfolding murder and 27-year-old “Zola” who recognizes the opportunity to increase his fame and future prospects by reporting on sensitive news throughout China.

From the perspective of vastly different generations, Zola and Tiger Temple must both reconcile an evolving sense of individualism, social responsibility and personal sacrifice. The juxtaposition of Zola’s coming-of-age journey from produce vendor to internet celebrity, and Tiger Temple’s commitment to understanding China’s tumultuous past provides an alternate portrait of China and of news-gathering in the 21st century.” (Official film website)

“A young Chinese vegetable seller decides to challenge the restrictions of free speech and begin a second life as a citizen journalist. Travelling through the country he reports on censored news stories and social issues, though his desire for truth and the possibility of fame guides him into potential harm. An older blogger in Beijing is dedicated to telling the stories of the villagers who struggle for survival in China’s rural areas. Armed with digital cameras, cell phones and laptops they have both become one-man news stations trying to make sense of the rapidly changing country they live in. These two brave men chronicle the untold stories from inside China, risking political persecution while trying to find a safe way through the country’s evolving censorship regulations. Telling the story from two different generations, High Tech, Low Life captures the determination and fearlessness of a new digital generation from two of China’s first citizen reporters. Charlotte Cook (Hot Docs 2012)



. Stephen MaingDirector, Producer, D.P., Editor
Stephen Maing is a New York based filmmaker. He edited and co-produced the award-winning documentary Lioness and directed the narrative film Little Hearts.  He is a fellow of the Independent Feature Project Labs program and the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Storytelling and Edit Lab. He is a grant recipient of the MacArthur Foundation, New York State Council on the Arts, and the Independent Television Service. Stephen has worked as a director, shooter, and editor on numerous documentary and narrative films and teaches summer classes in documentary cinematography at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston.

Trina RodriguezProducer
Trina is a graduate of The New School’s Documentary Studies program. Her work has appeared in festivals and museums and her short film Our Lady Queen of Harlem screened at MoMA’s Documentary Fortnight and is being distributed by Third World Newsreel. She works as a freelance editor and producer in New York City.

Richard LiangCo-producer
Richard Liang is an independent film producer. In 2010, his feature documentary project “The Next Life” was selected for the Asian Side of the Doc, Hong Kong FilMart. In 2008, his feature film project “My Shambhala” was selected for the Tokyo Project Gathering, TIFFCOM. During 2005 – 2007 He worked as Line Producer on “Stories of the Misty Mountains”, a TVE feature documentary about China’s wild western provinces.

Jonathan OppenheimCo-Editor/Editing Consultant
Jonathan Oppenheim’s editing credits include Children Underground, which was nominated for an Oscar and won the Sundance Special Jury Prize, and Paris Is Burning, awarded the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance as well as the New York Film Critics, Los Angeles Film Critics and IDA Awards. Among Oppenheim’s other credits are: Sister Helen, Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love, Out of the Shadow (PBS), Caught in the Crossfire (PBS), and Phyllis and Harold. He was the editor of Arguing The World, which received a Peabody Award. Most recently, Oppenheim edited and co-produced The Oath, a highly acclaimed psychological portrait of Osama bin Laden’s former bodyguard.


With the support of ITVS, Sundance Institute Documentary, Center for Asian American Media, Tribeca Film Institute, Good Pitch.
The film was partially funded through kickstarter

“Like the documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, to be released by IFC Films in July, this film reveals the risks involved in the most basic practice of art, journalism, and social media in China due to the oppressive government and The Great Firewall. However, unlike the titular character in that film, these “citizen reporters” don’t have the benefit of being wealthy, world-famous artists. The filmmaker is raising money to cover oh-so-important post-production costs like color correction, sound mixing, and subtitling, for the Tribeca Film Festival premiere this month.”




Official film website

Film page on tribecafilm.com, on ITVS.org


Tribeca Film Festival 2012 (Official selection), Hot Docs 2012 (World Premiere, Official selection), Independent Film Festival Boston 2012 (Official selection)


. Huffington Post

. ‘”High Tech, Low Life” documentary screens at Tribeca Film Festival” (18/04/12) examiner.com

. “Meet the 2012 Tribeca Filmmakers #31: Stephen Maing, ‘High Tech, Low Life’” indiewire.com (17/04/12) 

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