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Hooligan Sparrow

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China, United States · 2016
1h 24m
Director Nanfu Wang
Starring Ye Haiyan
Genre Documentary

The danger is palpable as intrepid young filmmaker Nanfu Wang follows maverick activist Ye Haiyan (a.k.a Hooligan Sparrow) to Hainan Province in southern China to protest the case of six elementary school girls who were sexually abused by their principal. Marked as enemies of the state, the activists face constant government surveillance, harassment, and imprisonment.

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What are critics saying?


The Film Stage by Daniel Schindel

Hooligan Sparrow struggles with the entrenchment of injustice both thematically and narratively, as it can’t quite find a way to cohere its story beyond sticking to the time Wang was with Ye. But that doesn’t diminish the courage of either filmmaker or subject.


IndieWire by David Ehrlich

Hooligan Sparrow is held tight on the strength of the solidarity it finds between these women, and while many other movies have more powerfully exposed the corruption of contemporary China, few have so articulately confronted the gendered weight of these prejudices, and how women always seem to be the first citizens to have their wings clipped.


Village Voice by Diana Clarke

Wang's film allows the public activist to be privately human, showing Ye at home with her lively daughter, sharing moments of friendship with other women activists or clearing brush and describing the hard rural lives of her family.


The Hollywood Reporter by Duane Byrge

Throughout, Wang makes a virtue out of necessity: Her on-the-run scoping and jarring cuts infuse the film with a sense of desperate danger befitting its subject matter.


The Playlist by Katie Walsh

Hooligan Sparrow is a vital reminder of the importance of artistic and journalistic freedom, and that telling certain stories can be an inherently perilous proposition — especially when those stories reveal something that the government would rather keep under wraps.


CineVue by Lucy Popescu

Hooligan Sparrow is a chilling reminder of the extent of state repression and corruption in China.


The New York Times by Manohla Dargis

Hooligan Sparrow, which Ms. Wang also shot and skillfully edited, has the pulse of a mainstream thriller but without the pacifying polish and tidiness.

100 by Matt Fagerholm

Regardless of their ultimate fate, the existence of Ye Haiyan and every soul she has ever sought to protect are undeniable, and thanks to filmmakers like Wang, immortal.


Screen International by Wendy Ide

Wang’s film has a grass roots, on-the-ground urgency: nervy, paranoid camerawork gives a sense of the realities of life on the sharp edge of activism.

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