Private Project

The Exiles

Meet Christine Choy, a New York City iconoclast and unforgettable filmmaker. Born in China, Christine relocated to America at the age of fourteen, and later became a documentarian. Working as both a director and cinematographer, she developed a distinct style crafting socially conscious films, including the Oscar-nominated, Who Killed Vincent Chin.

When Christine finds a box of old film reels in storage, she rediscovers an unfinished project she began in 1989: a documentary about a group of Chinese dissidents who sought asylum in the United States following the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Christine decides to revive this project, traveling to Taiwan, Maryland, and Paris in order to reconnect with three prominent leaders of the Chinese democracy movement. Her new interviews with the exiles bleed into her original archival footage, as we cut back and forth between 1989 and the present day. The exiles reflect on the decisions that changed the course of their lives forever, while Christine begins to wonder if releasing this film will force her into an exile of her own.

Amidst a worldwide surge in authoritarianism and new crackdowns on democracy that eerily echo the events of 1989, Christine reckons with the historic implications of her film. Determined not to let an important piece of history slip away, Christine commits to placing free speech above her own agency, regardless of the cost.

Featuring never before seen footage shot in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre, this film is an in-depth and personal investigation into one of the most significant events in modern history, as well as a meditation on the price of standing up for Democracy.

  • Violet Columbus
  • Ben Klein
  • Christine Choy
    Key Talent, Director (in archive)
  • Maria Chiu
  • Steven Soderbergh
    Executive Producer
  • Chris Columbus
    Executive Producer
  • Eleanor Columbus
    Executive Producer
  • Jake Eagan
    Associate Producer
  • Connor K Smith
  • Colton Fordyce
  • Vivian Z. Hu
    Assistant Editor
  • Ryan Mulhern
    Assistant Editor
  • Lewie Kloster
  • Noah Kloster
  • Onyx Collective
  • Christine Choy
    Key Cast
  • Wu'er Kaixi
    Key Cast
  • Wan Runnan
    Key Cast
  • Yan Jiaqi
    Key Cast
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Genres:
    Nonfiction, Political history
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 29 minutes 10 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    November 30, 2021
  • Production Budget:
    58,388 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    China, France, Taiwan, United States
  • Language:
    English, Mandarin Chinese
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital, 16mm film
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Distribution Information
  • Endeavor Content
    Sales Agent
Director Biography - Violet Columbus, Ben Klein

Ben Klein & Violet Columbus are the co-directors of The Exiles. They met in Christine Choy’s documentary film class at NYU and have been working together ever since. Klein & Columbus co-directed their NYU thesis film, Willy, starring Allen Havey, in 2016.

As co-directors they have unique skill sets and somewhat different styles, but ultimately these differences elevate their projects and make them stronger as a team. Ben is a visually focused documentary-filmmaker with a passion for politically charged stories. Violet is a keen writer and editor, with a knack for getting to the core of an issue.

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Director Statement

We began this project to celebrate the trailblazing life and career of our mentor, Christine Choy. However, once Christine rediscovered her old footage from 1989, our trajectory shifted and the film became something else entirely.

The result is something of a film-within-a-film. As Christine reconnects with the exiles and revisits the events of 1989, our movie charts her emotional journey in the present. Although Christine’s archival footage is centered around Chinese politics and history, our film is ultimately a story about home, memory, and the durability of the human spirit. Christine helps navigate Western viewers through a dense and foreign story. True to form, she is often “teaching” on camera, explaining complex ideas in an entertaining and accessible style that is completely her own.

In 1989, Christine trained her camera on the recently exiled Chinese leaders, capturing an intimate and raw piece of history. Placing our camera in front of Christine Choy as she revisited this lost film has been the honor and experience of a lifetime. We are humbled and grateful to play a role in telling this important story.

In an era when free-speech is under attack, and even the definition of the word “truth” is open to debate, documentary filmmaking has never been more vital. Our hope is that this film brings attention to a censored and lost piece of history, and encourages others to, as Christine says, “do things nobody dares to do. Make films nobody dares to make.”