One American had a big role in Mao's China
Documentary captures the life of Sidney Rittenberg over several decades
Posted: October 1, 2013
Courtesy Photo: © Stourwater Pictures
Sidney Rittenberg is interviewed for the film 'The Revolutionary.'
A one-time showing of The Revolutionary, a new documentary about the life of Sidney Rittenberg in Mao's China takes place at the Globe Bookstore on Oct. 3. The feature-length film focuses on Rittenberg, who went from being in the top echelon to spending long times in Beijing Prison Number One, often in solitary confinement.
The film covers the period from the 1940s to the '70s starting with Mao's time in Yan'an during China's civil war up through the Cultural Revolution. The film cannot be shown in China.
"The Revolutionary first began in 1983 when I was making my Masters film titled Witness to Revolution - the Story of Anna Louise Strong. My subject had been a radical journalist [who went] to document the revolutions in the Soviet Union and China. She had interviewed Mao in the Yan'an caves. … Since she did not speak Chinese, she needed an interpreter … and that interpreter was Sidney Rittenberg," producer Lucy Ostrander said on the film's website.
"I discovered that Sid was living in the United States and I interviewed him for the film," she added. "Twenty-one years passed until my husband and filmmaking partner picked up The New York Times and discovered an article on the front of the Sunday Business section featuring Sid titled 'A Long March From Maoism to Microsoft.' The article revealed that Sid lived about an hour away from me, so I contacted him," she said. "During that meeting, Sid gave me his autobiography, The Man Who Stayed Behind, and I was overwhelmed by his unique experience and unparalleled perspective on Mao's China," she said.
When: Oct. 3 at 7:30
Where: The Globe Bookstore, Pstrossova 6
Tickets: 200 Kč/ discount for students and journalists: 100 Kč
The film grew out of that meeting. "In all, four separate interviews produced 26 hours of material for the film and an invaluable oral history of Sid's life and times," she said.
The New York Times called he film a remarkable story. "[Rittenberg] holds your attention. Thoughtful and remorseful - he regrets his role in the brutal Cultural Revolution - he's a good raconteur who provides plenty of eyewitness detail," the paper said in its review.
Raymond Johnston can be reached at