JURY WINNER, DOCUMENTARY FEATURE - Austin Asian American Film Festival | OFFICIAL SELECTION - Tribeca Festival | OFFICIAL SELECTION - Doc Edge | GRAND PRIZE FOR DOCUMENTARY FEATURE - Heartland Film Festival | INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY GRAND JURY PRIZE - Hot Springs Documentary Film FestivalFemale Solidarity & Networks of Support in Ancient China • Preserving a Secret Script • Historical & Contemporary Marriage Practices • Feminism • Calligraphy & Poetry • Histories of Resistance
Date of Completion: 2022 | Run Time: 86 minutes | Language: Mandarin Chinese with English subtitles | Captions: Yes | Includes: Transcript | Directors: Violet Du Feng and Zhao Qing | Producers: Violet Feng, Mette Cheng-Munthe Kaas, Jean Tsien & Su Kim | Co-Producers: Tanja Georgieva-Waldhauer and Betsy Tsai | Executive Producers: James Costa, Ken Pelletier, Sally Jo Fifer, Lois Vossen, Jaeson Ma, and Inmaat Productions | Editor: John Farbrother
Women in China were historically forced into oppressive marriages and forbidden to read or write by their households for thousands of years. To cope, they developed and shared a secret language among themselves called Nushu. Written in poems or songs with bamboo pens on paper-folded fans and handkerchiefs, these hidden letters bonded generations of Chinese women in a clandestine support system of sisterhood, hope and survival.
Spanning between past and present, from sunken rice fields and rural villages to bustling metropolitan cities, HIDDEN LETTERS follows two millennial Chinese women who are connected by their fascination with Nushu and their desire to protect its legacy. In Jiangyong, Hu Xin works as a Nushu museum guide and aspires to master the ancient script following the breakup of her marriage. In Shanghai, Simu is passionate about music and Nushu, but marital expectations threaten to end her pursuit of both. Influenced by Nushu’s legacy of female solidarity, the two women struggle to find balance as they forge their own paths in a patriarchal culture steeped in female subservience to men.
"A deep and wonderful rebellion."
"Fascinating... culminating in a powerful resonance that lingers."
The Black Cape Mag | Jonita Davis
"A magnificent portrait of women in China."
Documentary Magazine | Patricia Aufderheide
"Hidden Letters is an extraordinary film: masterfully conceived, strategically designed and highly crafted."
"Feng and Qing give us an uncommented but highly pointed close-up look at the contradictory meanings of Nushu today, from the perspective of the women they follow. They capture some extraordinarily revelatory moments, which need no parsing. The female participants permit them to capture their vulnerability, their insecurity, their doubts."
"Feng, who took lead as director, doesn’t pick sides, or demonize anyone for reinforcing patriarchy. Instead, she shows how systems reinforce it and engage everyone in participation, even those trying to resist."
Film Book | Thomas Duffy
"Hidden Letters is a movie that holds the viewer captive for the duration of the film’s running time. We can only hope we’ve evolved as a society (and as a world) after viewing these experiences of some very distinguished ladies."
Alliance of Women Film Journalists | Marilyn Ferdinand
"It’s hard to know whether the language of nushu will survive; clearly, its soul is in peril as men intrude with their crass money-making schemes. Fortunately, we have Hidden Letters to help us remember the creativity to be found in women’s struggle for survival."
The Austin Chronicle | Mazzy Oliver Smallwood
"If there is such a thing as 'female gaze' within filmmaking, Feng has captured it."
Jury Winner, Documentary Feature; Audience Award, Feature Film | Austin Asian American Film Festival
Grand Prize for Documentary Feature | Heartland Film Festival
International Documentary Grand Jury Prize | Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival
Best Feature Documentary Shortlist | 38th IDA Documentary Awards
Best Norwegian Documentary | Bergen International Film Festival
Sydney Film Festival
Sydney Film Festival
Travelling Film Festival
Lunenburg Doc Fest
Syracuse University Human Rights Film Festival
Tallgrass Film Festival
BFI London Film Festival
New Haven Documentary Film Festival
Adelaide Film Festival
Mystic Film Festival
Muestra Internacional de Cine Indígena de Venezuela
Films from the South
DocPoint - Helsinki Documentary Film Festival
Millennium Docs Against Gravity Film Festival
REQUEST A GOOD TALK WITH VIOLET DU FENG
Director and Producer of HIDDEN LETTERS
Violet Du Feng is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker whose films provide nuanced, intimate and provocative perspectives to reflect on larger social issues. Violet’s work focuses on women’s rights; the insider’s look into where China is through the 13 films she has directed, produced and executive produced covering topics about education, elderly care, artificial intelligence, ethnic minorities, commercialization and cultural shifts over the past 20 years; and how to use documentaries to create social impact especially in developing countries. Her work has been featured in publications including New York Times, New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal and Vogue Magazine. Her latest award-winning film Hidden Letters premiered at 2022 Tribeca Film Festival, which explores gender equality against politics, Capitalism and cultural influences through a fascinating lens of an ancient and secret women-only language from China. Following two millennial women, this poignant film addresses the global roll back on women’s rights in an unexpected and deeply moving way. She directed the CPB/PBS special program Harbor from the Holocaust with music performed by Yo-yo Ma, which tells the rarely known story of nearly 20,000 Jewish refugees who fled Nazi-occupied Europe during WII to Shanghai. Violet is the producer of the award-winning documentary Please Remember Me about elderly care in China. She led the first documentary impact campaign with the film and created groundbreaking policy changes. Violet started her career by co-producing the Peabody and Emmy winning documentary Nanking. The film examines the Nanking Massacre committed in 1937 by the Japanese, which premiered at 2007’s Sundance Film Festival and broadcasted on HBO’s Cinemax.
Violet has been invited to speak at prestigious academic institutions including Stanford, UC Berkeley, Columbia, NYU, Hongkong University and Fudan University. She often gives speeches about documentary social impact campaigns at major events including Good Pitch, impact producer’s assemblies and Chinese documentary forums. Violet is the 2022 advisor of Sundance Producers Lab, an annual trainer at the Chinese CNEX Documentary Forum and the consulting programmer at Shanghai International Film Festival.