The Revolutionary - produced by Stourwater Pictures in association with Irv Drasnin.

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Shining Mao



Sidney Rittenberg’s Story Featured on KNKX’s Sound Effect

Using clips from The Revolutionary and new interviews, Gabriel Spitzer explores the life of Sidney Rittenberg in a 13-minute radio documentary.
You can hear the show by clicking here.



The Revolutionary Featured on NPR's Morning Edition / Throughline

"NPR's history podcast Throughline, profiles Sidney Rittenberg, an American who became a Chinese revolutionary and encountered both acceptance and suspicion from Chinese leaders."
You can hear the show by clicking here.



We completed a one-week theatrical run at the QUAD Cinema in New York City. Here are some reviews:


“ [Rittenberg] provides a thrillingly unique viewpoint on the disillusion and terror of the 20th century’s most tragic revolution....Falling quickly under the romantic spell of the Chinese Communist party, he answered their request to be an “engineer” to “build a bridge from the Chinese people to the American people.” It’s a bridge that Rittenberg, who would ultimately spend some 15 years in solitary confinement, never quite managed to build. “History rolled right over me,” he says. “I wanted to be a revolutionary....Rittenberg, in his 90s during the making of the film, makes for a witty subject, with his reedy accent, jocular humor, and honest appraisal of his own naïve assumptions about the titanic forces that Chairman Mao—whom he memorably defines as “a great hero…and a great villain”—would unleash.”



" ….a remarkable story….[Rittenberg] holds your attention. Thoughtful and remorseful — he regrets his role in the brutal Cultural Revolution — he’s a good raconteur who provides plenty of eyewitness detail."

By RACHEL SALTZ Published ; April 12, 2013


Sidney Rittenberg is a man apart: a trade union activist in the US, he was sent East during WW2 to work as a military attaché in China. But with the revolution brewing, Rittenberg jumped ship and joined Mao Tse Tung, becoming a 'foreign expert' for the communist government and abandoning his old life altogether. His story, as laid out in this direct, engaging documentary, is an extraordinary one, from two bouts of imprisonment for spying (the first on the orders of Joseph Stalin himself), through the living hell of the Cultural Revolution, to a quiet life back on home shores advising the US government on foreign policy. With little in the way of footage or photos the film is constructing largely of to-camera interviews with Rittenberg, but he's a charming host and his story is one of a kind.



A first-class work of documentary film-making about an American man -- Sidney Rittenberg -- who has spent half of his adult life living, working and being imprisoned in China, THE REVOLUTIONARY is one of those very rare movies that speaks honestly, directly and poignantly to the need so many of us feel, especially when we are young, to help change the world and make it a better place for all humanity. And then the movie shows us, with clarity and grace, how difficult and deceptive such a task turns out to be.

There is plenty here to please progressives -- the young, Jewish man (at right) from America's south, who begins as a student activist and labor organi-zer who is then trained by the American military as a linguist in Chinese and sta-tioned in China at the end of World War II. His extra-ordinary abilities endear him to the Chinese -- right up to and including Mao -- whose guerrilla war inspires Rittenberg to the point that he agrees to stay permanently in China to help build a cultural bridge between the two countries.

What will please our Communist-hating right wing, of course, is the picture the movie paints of the enormous damage done to China and its people by Chairman Mao, whom Rittenberg calls both a great hero and a great criminal -- and then in the 90 minutes that follow shows us why. The story that this extremely bright and thoughtful fellow tells -- based on his book with Amanda Bennett, The Man Who Stayed Behind -- is eye-opening in so many ways about so many things that it
becomes an immediate must-see for anyone interested in history, China or the human impulse toward bettering the world (while making one's own way in it).

We get some marvelous anecdotes about Mao, Mrs. Mao, the Gang of Four, and work and political life in China over the 35 years that Rittenberg (shown below, these days) was there. (He was in prison for a good many of these years!). Married to two Chinese women over that time, there is a great deal of personal material here, too, and it's as interesting as all the rest.

By turns funny, shocking, moving, thoughtful and bone-deep sad, The Revolutionary won't change your mind about much. But it will open it up in a manner that few films previously have managed: making the personal indeed political and vice versa, while offering a view of China from the 1940s through 1980 that we have simply never before seen.
This film, notes Mr. Drasnin, cannot be shown to public audiences in China. I guess not. We wouldn't want that nation -- after all the venality, stupidity, propaganda, famine and mass murder its people have suffered over the modern decades -- to now undergo a collective heart attack.

We're only as far as the fourth month into 2013, but this film is so important in so many ways, as well as being so beautifully executed -- archival footage, posters of the time, and the marvelous Mr. Rittenberg himself -- that it immediately becomes the best documentary so far this year and, I would think, a shoo-in for the shortlist come Oscar time next.



More News

We've just received a significant review in Education About Asia magazine. More information, and a link to the full review, can be found on our Reviews page.

Irv Drasnin recently took the film to China for private showings at the Foreign Correspondents' Clubs of Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. More about the Hong Kong event and a video of the after-screening Q&A can be found here.

A story about the film and the filmmakers recently appeared in Stanford Magazine. You can see the article here.

Sid Rittenberg was interviewed by Rob Schmitz of Marketplace. You can see it and read about it here.

Sid Rittenberg was interviewed by Scott Simon on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday on October 20th. Click here to go to the NPR web page on the interview, replete with clips from the film.

The Atlantic recently reviewed the film. You can see the review here.

The International Herald Tribune recently reviewed the film. You can see that review here.



The Revolutionary has received rave reviews from both the press and academics. Click here to go to our reviews page.


Press Kit

Download our press kit by clicking here.


Press Photo 1

Sidney Rittenberg. Interview with Sidney Rittenberg from The Revolutionary. Photo attribution: Stourwater Pictures

View in high resolution by clicking here.


Press Photo 2

Sidney Rittenberg. Interview with Sidney Rittenberg from The Revolutionary. Photo attribution: Stourwater Pictures

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Press Photo 3

Mao Zedong and Sidney Rittenberg. Mao Zedong signs Sidney Rittenberg's copy of the Little Red Book during a gathering of Party leaders during the Cultural Revolution. Photo by Personal Collection of Sidney Rittenberg

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Press Photo 4

Sidney Rittenberg. Sidney Rittenberg became a celebrity during the Cultural Revolution. Here he exhorts a large crowd in Tiananmen Square to defend Mao Zedong Thought. Photo by Personal Collection of Sidney Rittenberg

View in high resolution by clicking here.


Press Photo 5

Sidney Rittenberg. Sidney Rittenberg studying Chinese at Stanford during WWII. Photo by Personal Collection of Sidney Rittenberg

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Inquiries can be directed to Lucy Ostrander, 206.617.1354,

China Under Mao