Gao Rongrong: The Face of Persecution

Ms. Gao Rongrong, a 37-year-old accountant at an art college in Shenyang, China had a radiant smile and joyful disposition. All that changed when she was unlawfully detained and tortured as part of the nation-wide campaign to crush Falun Gong. Photos and video footage of her ordeal were smuggled out of China, and sent shock waves through the human rights community.

  • Mathias Magnason
  • Mathias Magnason
  • Jan Lokos
  • Jan Lokos
  • Levi Browde
    Executive Producer
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short
  • Runtime:
    4 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    August 20, 2020
  • Production Budget:
    3,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    China, United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital, Archive Footage
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Mathias Magnason

Mathias has loved storytelling his entire life. At the age of 5, he was obsessed with Robert Ludlum’s Bourne series. At age 18, his uncle—an award-winning cinematographer—offered him an internship. On the sets of movies and drama TV, Mathias entered the world of visual storytelling. For five years, Mathias assisted in various roles, from producing to directing, editing, lighting and sound design. He fell in love with the magic, spirit and tenacity of the industry.

Motivated to create films that would impact the world, Mathias went on his own. The United Nations hired Mathias for his directorial debut, where he shot a documentary about a cultural exchange between two schools in Sweden and Malawi, southern Africa. Working with the African children was so rewarding, they inspired Mathias to continue down the road of making humanitarian-focused documentaries.

In his second film—“Article 23”—Mathias produced a 20-minute documentary that told the story of Falun Gong, the persecuted spiritual group in China. At a time when no one else would touch the subject, Mathias was able to get it aired on broadcast TV in Sweden.

In 2010, Mathias moved to the US and founded Magnason Film to continue making impactful documentaries and to produce videos for commercial clients. Since its inception, Magnason Film’s videos and films have earned over 30 film festival awards and garnered millions of views across social media.

Tireless in his desire to improve his filmmaking craft, Mathias has been studying acting at the Michael Chekhov School of Acting since 2018. He initially began his acting study to improve his communication with actors, but Mathias has found a second love, having as much fun in front of the camera as behind it.

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Director Statement

For several years, we had documented the torture and killing of Falun Gong practitioners in China. Not until I saw Ms. Gao Rongrong's face, however, did it really hit home just what we were dealing with.

Brave to the very end, Gao not only insisted that her siblings secretly take photos of her mutilated face, but she had them record her briefly while under police watch.

The resulting photos and video footage sent shock waves through the human rights community, and elevated the once-radiant face of this young woman as an unflinching yet tragic symbol for the horrors unfolding inside China.

I had kept Gao's story, and photos with me for years. Finally, just last year, we were able to tell her story.