China (mainland), Doc reviews, NEWS, Released docs, USA — 06/22/2012 1:54 PM

Documentary about Fox Island’s Rittenberg to premiere in Seattle (

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Sidney Rittenberg has been called Chairman Mao’s favorite American. The 90-year-old Fox Island resident spent 34 years in China, sometimes at Mao’s side and at other times in prison.

“The Revolutionary” features Sidney Rittenberg with Chairman Mao Zedong. During his early years in China, Rittengerg knew and supported him.

By Craig Sailor, 05/25/12

Sidney Rittenberg has been called Chairman Mao’s favorite American. The 90-year-old Fox Island resident spent 34 years in China, sometimes at Mao’s side and at other times in prison.

In a 2011 story, the BBC said, “Sidney Rittenberg has lived a life usually seen only in Hollywood movies.”

Now, that life has finally come to the big screen. On Sunday, a documentary film about Rittenberg will premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival.

“The Revolutionary” focuses on Rittenberg’s life in China and just prior, when he was a union organizer in the American South.

Rittenberg first arrived in China in 1945 with the U.S. military just as the war was ending. He soon joined China’s young Communist Party. Once hailed as “an international communist fighter” by revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, he eventually fell victim to Chinese suspicions that he was a spy. He spent a total of 16 years in solitary confinement during two sentences. In 1980, he finally returned to America with his family after being released from prison in 1977.

Though he was disillusioned about the Communist Party, Rittenberg never lost his love for China. He started a consulting business that advises American and other foreign companies entering the Chinese market.

Lucy Ostrander of Bainbridge Island is one of three producers of “The Revolutionary.”

“He’s extraordinary. He’s funny, he’s charming, he’s brilliant,” Ostrander said of Rittenberg.

Though Ostrander had briefly interviewed Rittenberg 20 years earlier for another documentary, she really didn’t know his full story until 2005 when she read his autobiography, “The Man Who Stayed Behind.” It tells of bouncing around in a Jeep with Mao and giving the leader’s daughter piggyback rides.

“I said somebody should make a film. This is an incredible story,” Ostrander said.

That somebody turned out to be Ostrander; her husband, Don Sellers; and fellow producer Irv Drasnin. Though all three producers worked on the film, Ostrander focused on fundraising, Sellers was the cinematographer and editor, and Drasnin interviewed Rittenberg and narrates the 92-minute film. Both Pacific Lutheran University and philanthropist George Russell have contributed funding and support for the film. Rittenberg is a visiting professor and senior adviser in China studies at PLU.

“It’s an inspiring story and it’s a love story,” Ostrander said. The love part concerns Rittenberg’s wife, Yulin. During one prison term, Yulin had no contact with her husband for 10 years. The couple had four children, two of whom live in China and two who live in the United States.

“The Revolutionary” tells of Rittenberg’s involvement with the 1949 Chinese Revolution, the 1966 Cultural Revolution and other social movements.

“Very few Chinese know about (the Cultural Revolution), let alone Americans,” Ostrander said. “He was a participant at the very highest level of the Communist Party. He has extraordinary insights that no other American has.”

Rittenberg is in China; he still has an apartment in Beijing. But he’ll return to Washington to attend Sunday’s and Thursday’s screenings. Both screenings will be followed by a Q-and-A with Rittenberg, his wife and the film’s producers. ‘The Revolutionary’
When/where: at the Harvard Exit Theater, 807 E. Roy St., Seattle; 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the Pacific Place Cinemas, 600 Pine St., Seattle.

Official film website   Trailer on YouTube

SOURCE: (25/5/2012)

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