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Zhang Hongtu - an artist and an outsider. His life through Chinese Civil War, Cultural Revolution and immigration to New York.

Xin Fang is an artist and documentary filmmaker. She was born in Shenzhen, China during the economic reform era that started in her city. After graduating from Boston University with double majors in Visual Journalism and Sociology, Xin moved to New York. Before He Starts is her debut documentary. It follows artist Zhang Hontu 张宏图 (b. 1943) who grew up through both the Chinese Civil War and the ensuing Cultural Revolution before immigrating to New York in 1982.

Before He Starts reveals Hongtu’s initial impulse to make art after a bittersweet, decades-long journey. The film travels with Hongtu from New York to Kansas, as he seeks to explore the midwestern landscape and its spirit animal: the bison. His new subjects challenge the stereotyping tendencies of identity politics while inviting viewers to consider a fresh take on the East-West connection. Examining his past to unpack his present, the film explores how Hongtu coped with painful memories while choosing to stay true to himself in a world that too often values fame above integrity. These themes are largely derived from his "outsider" standing as a Muslim in China and, after his move to the United States, as a Chinese citizen in the Western world.

Fang << Zhang Hongtu’s artworks caught my attention when I saw them as part of the group exhibition “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World” at the Guggenheim Museum in 2017. Darkly amusing and often associated with “Political Pop,” his early works examine freedom from the perspective of a Cultural Revolution survivor who also happens to be a Muslim-Chinese immigrant in the United States.

It was only after I started filming Hongtu that I came to understand a simple truth that transcends the complexities of race, politics, and art—perhaps you’ll discover it, too.

The eyes of the world are opening, and I believe history is giving us this moment to choose a better path. We can only progress when older and younger voices speak and listen together. What does it cost to create, and what kind of world will we create now that we can no longer hide from one another? I hope with all my heart that this film serves as a part of our progress. >>

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