Tribeca Film Review: ‘One Child Nation’ Provides a Heartbreaking Look at Law and Obedience

2019 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: Documentaries are the bedrock of education within the film world. So, when filmmakers like Nanfu Wang and Zhang Lynn are afforded the opportunity to not only shine a light on an ill-informed subject but connect their own personal experiences to shepherd an even more effective vessel, we are all better off for it.  The film “One Child Nation” is an eye-opening and moving piece that presents some truly challenging questions with which the viewer must wrestle.

“One Child Nation” documents first-time mother and filmmaker Nanfu Wang, as she uncovers the untold history of China’s One-Child policy. Educating the public of its origins and ending, she examines generations of parents, children, and even her own family, forever shaped by a law that was framed as a survival mechanism but was something shockingly deeper.

While the directing duo doesn’t necessarily color up their framing of the subject, or use filmmaker tricks audiences have come accustom in films like “Searching for Sugar Man” or “Stories We Tell,” the deep narrative holds the viewer’s psyche almost throughout.  The cultural examination of the other side of the world is a quality sorely missing from mainstream cinematic climate.  From a viewer that was raised on the East Coast, has barely left the country, and is ashamed to have so little knowledge of foreign affairs, this was a breath of fresh air to the repertoire of contemporary documentaries.

Wang goes into her family’s shame and involvement with this policy, showing their frailty of speaking out while still having vision problems on what is and was supposed to be “just.”  While staying within the confines of the law, Wang expands to other stories, and how it correlates to adoptions around the world, and presents questions with which to grapple.  If an American family adopted a child under false pretenses that was no fault of that family. For years parents would have raised that child only to discover their biological family has been searching for them. How would you react as the parent?

Due to these complicated and highly sensitive question, the film seems to railroad right over it by the film’s end, and with likely hours upon hours of additional footage, there was far more story to tell.  This is a film that would have benefited immensely from a release on a streaming platform, marketing “One Child Nation” it as a full-length mini-series, likely 5 to 8 episodes.  There was too much left on the editing room floor that would have stitched many of its most jaw-dropping moments, and provided a more sensible and probable solution to the issue at hand.

This is a fantastic starting point for the subject, and there are likely dozens of other stories that tell of the same issue and because of “One Child Nation,” this viewer will now seek and explore them.

“One Child Nation” is distributed by Amazon Studios and is scheduled to be released on Aug. 9.

GRADE: (★★★½)