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Color, 52 minutes, NTSC video on Beta SP/Digibeta
English and Chinese with English subtitles
Co-Written by Rebecca Sherman
Original Music by Shih-Hui Chen
Distributed by First Run/Icarus Films

“What’s important: the thing that happened, or the thing that’s remembered?

A young woman travels to China to meet her mother’s family after a 50-year separation. She discovers that her intellectual relatives have faced persecution, imprisonment, and even murder during China’s convulsive political movements.

Once Removed, a one-hour documentary, focuses on three of filmmaker Julie Mallozzi’s relatives: a scientist whose life was disrupted by politics, a professor whose life was ended by politics, and a government official who works her life around politics. Weaving together dreams, historical footage, and scenes from her relatives' lives, the filmmaker meditates on the complications of remembering and forgetting the past.

Mallozzi first visits her great-uncle Wang Shou-Jue, a scientist who pioneered the development of computer chips in China. He shows her his research, and talks about the Cultural Revolution, when he swept floors and fed furnaces: “physical hard work that didn’t use the brain.” The filmmaker makes realizes, “I studied the Cultural Revolution in college, but somehow it never occurred to me to think about my family living through these events.”

She then investigates the 1940s murder of her grandmother’s favorite brother, Fei Gong. A political science professor who promoted democracy in China, Fei Gong was kidnapped and murdered by the Nationalists, and later declared a revolutionary martyr by the Communists. Mallozzi retraces Fei Gong’s last steps to a foggy dock in Chongqing and the site of the chemical pool where his corpse supposedly was dissolved. “Do you think there is no chemical pool?” she asks her doubtful cousin Mimi as they walk through the desolate site. “I’m beginning to think this history isn’t true.” The filmmaker’s nightmares intensify as she gets caught in a tangled web of propaganda, family, and memory.

The film ends with a visit to Aunt Fei Shi-Cheng, the first cousin of Mallozzi’s mother and an energetic government official in the family’s hometown of Suzhou. She proudly shows Suzhou’s new development, but also cries about her father’s persecution and his parting words: “In loving my country I was not mistaken. I have not done my country wrong, or the Communist party wrong. Someday my name will be cleared.” The filmmaker prepares to leave China, realizing that, “For my relatives, the cost of remembering the past is high. For me, it’s a kind of luxury. But I need to recover my family’s past because I’m afraid of living without memories.”

Filmmaker’s Viewpoint

Once Removed was my first professional film. After college, I pursued my deep interest in Latin America and especially its indigenous people (I had grown up on a Native American historical site in Ohio). I lived and worked as a writer in Ecuador, and enjoyed blending into the local scene because of my appearance.

At a certain point, though, I began to realize that as much as I related to this other culture, I knew so little about my own heritage. It was while living in Ecuador that I decided I needed to learn Chinese and travel to China.

My family was of course very supportive of this idea. My uncles provided a lot of background information about the glorious tradition of scientific accomplishment in our family, the grand estates and gardens, the fine calligraphers among our ancestors. This was what I expected to focus on when I set off to China to make a documentary.

I was quite surprised to find a much more complicated history. While several of my ancestors were indeed brilliant intellectuals, their careers had been frustrated by the Cultural Revolution and other political events. My relatives were persecuted at several points in their lives; one great-uncle was murdered during the civil war. The 75-room house compound still existed, but it had been seized by poor people during the 1950s as a disgraceful sign of feudalist China.

Once Removed explores ideas I developed while learning about my family history. While the film is very personal, audience members have approached me after screenings to say, "I fled Cuba in 1959, and this is my family's story, too," or "My family survived the Holocaust, and I can relate to everything you are thinking," or "I went back to Mexico for the first time, and it was just like this." I've also met a number of other Chinese-Italian-Americans who relate to the film in a special way. It's always a pleasure to be present at screenings of this piece.

Screenings and Awards

Artists' Television Access, San Francisco October 2002
Roxbury Film Festival, Boston August 2000
Columbus International Film Festival (Honorable Mention) June 2000
National Council on Family Relations Media Competition May 2000 (First Place)
Film Fest New Haven April 2000
New England Film and Video Festival (BFVF Award) April 2000
Viewpoint series, WGBH-TV
Asian-American Film Festival, Boston March 2000
Asian Studies Association Conference, San Diego February 2000
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston December 1999



“Very inspiring.... subtle, serious, thoughtful. It looks at complex, even messy, personal and historical events without trying to resolve them.”
— Ross McElwee ("Sherman’s March", "Time Indefinite")

“A good balance of the informational and the personal... she culls eloquent images from the video footage and uses them well, with a nice, spare score by Shih-Hui Chen.”
— Betsy Sherman, Boston Globe

“Mallozzi deftly and subtly takes the personal and makes it political. She raises questions that apply to us all... Once Removed is an excellent addition for high shcool, academic, and public libraries.”
— Helen McCullough, MC Journal: the Journal of Academic Media Librarianship

“Ingratiatingly unpretentious.”
— Gerald Peary, Boston Phoenix

“An amazing personal tale with a thoroughly engaging mix of historical materials and gorgeous footage of Mallozzi’s journey... this should be seen and enjoyed."
— Bruce Jenkins, Curator, Harvard Film Archive


“Filmmaker’s Debut Makes the Cut,” Boston Herald, December 3, 1999 (requires purchase)

“Family Reunion : Mallozzi films her long-lost Chinese Relatives,” Harvard University Gazette, December 2, 1999

“American Girl: Review of Julie Mallozzi’s ‘Once Removed’,”, December 1999

“Review: Once Removed,” Boston Phoenix, November 29, 1999

Center for Independent Documentary website

Press Information:

Download a full press kit for Once Removed, including fact sheet, credits, background, filmmakers’ viewpoint, screening info, and quotes about the film.


Produced in association with the Center for Independent Documentary
Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities
LEF Foundation
Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation
Massachusetts Media Fellowship
Harvard University Film Study Center
Private Donors

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Distributed by First Run/Icarus Films