Private Project

Behind the Strings

When Mao’s Cultural Revolution ended, China’s door cracked open. Four young, classically trained musicians seized the opportunity to flee to the West. They've performed for 36 years in the U.S. and around the world. Behind the Strings tells how they got there, and the price they pay to stay on top. And, why China is now inviting them back to perform the music that was previously banned.

  • Hal Rifken
    Blue Like Me, Edible Roots with Martin Yan
  • Michael Peroff
    Around the World
  • Hal Rifken
    Blue Like Me, Edible Roots with Martin Yan
  • Michael Peroff
    Across the Pacific
  • Tracy Nicole Cring
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 15 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    August 17, 2020
  • Production Budget:
    175,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    China, France, Mexico, United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Woodstock Film Festival
    Woodstock, NY
    United States
    September 30, 2020
    Worldwide Premier
  • Montclair Film Festival
    Montclair, NJ
    United States
    October 16, 2020
  • Hamptons Doc Fest
    Bridgehampton, NY
    United States
    November 3, 2020
  • Beloit International Film Festival
    United States
    February 20, 2021
  • Woods Hole Film Festival
    woods Hole
    United States
  • Richmond International Film Festival
    United States
    September 12, 2021
    Nominee for Best of Festival
  • Classical Arts Film Festival
    United States
    August 26, 2021
    Best Documentary
  • Chagrin International Documentary Film Festival
    Chagrin Falls
    United States
    October 8, 2021
  • UTAHDOC Film Festival

    United States
  • Toronto Independent Film Festival
Director Biography - Hal Rifken

Hal Rifken has worked as a cinematographer and documentary film producer/director for over 30 years. Beginning his career as an educator, he shifted from academic studies at the University of Wisconsin to filmmaking. After apprenticing with local filmmakers in Madison, he moved to New York City and immediately began production on a series of informational videos for District 75, NYC’s special education department. Production highlights: he spent 2 years on location for the Food Network shooting Chef Martin Yan as he shared his wok with fellow food enthusiasts (Edible Roots Wit Martin Yan).

His documentary subjects include one on an Indian-American artist (Blue Like Me: The Art of Siona Benjamin); a profile of a 300 pound drag queen (Dixie Queen); and 5 years shooting producer Michael Peroff’s ambitious string quartet project (Behind The String). Currently he is producing a documentary on Guatemala’s indigenous Maya people (Guatemala: Trouble in the Highlands).

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

One of the attractions of documentary filmmaking is the opportunity to learn something about which one knows very little. When Producer Michael Peroff approached me to partner with him on a documentary that would profile a string quartet, my exposure to classical music—not to mention chamber music--was nonexistent. I had worked for Sony Music for a period but that involved rock, jazz, R & B, and pop artists. But I said yes, nonetheless, and a new learning challenge began.

Five years later, I can now say I know a bit about chamber music and why Mao’s Cultural Revolution banned it. And about the heart of the documentary: what it takes to become a world-renowned quartet, four guys fiddling together, managing to not kill each other over artistic differences.

I served as both Director and Cinematographer, which I found a fascinating challenge. Happy to say that alongside editor Tracy Cring, we pulled off a remarkable film.