Once Removed

A trip to China reveals a family’s complicated political past.
Year Released
Film Length(s)
52 mins
Remote video URL


A young woman travels to China to meet her mother’s family after a 50-year separation. She discovers that her intellectual relatives faced persecution, imprisonment, and even murder during China’s convulsive political movements. Interweaving dreams, archival footage, and scenes from her relatives' lives, she meditates on the complications of historical memory.

Featured review

Beautifully shot, expertly edited, and accompanied by an original soundtrack, this film will be of interest to aspiring documentary filmmakers, Asian-American students curious about their heritage, all students of modern Chinese History, and any oral historian interested in how the past is rendered through individual memory. The issues this film addresses are as current today as they were when it was released in 1999. In fact, Once Removed will have a new audience among international students from China studying in the US today.
Lindsay French
Associate Professor of Anthropology, Rhode Island School of Design


Once Removed provides a personal lens into the complexities of 20th century Chinese history. Setting off to reconnect with her mother’s family, filmmaker Julie Mallozzi finds herself drawn into a web of politics and history.

Julie visits a great-uncle in Beijing who pioneered the development of computer chips in China – after being persecuted for years during the Cultural Revolution. She investigates the fate her grandmother’s favorite brother, a political science professor and early democracy activist who was murdered by the Nationalists in the 1940s and later declared a Communist martyr. As she and her young cousin retrace their great-uncle’s last steps to the foggy dock where he was kidnapped and the site of the chemical pool where his corpse was supposedly dissolved, they begin to question the official history.

The film ends with a visit to Julie’s mother’s first cousin, an energetic government official in the family’s hometown of Suzhou. Her “auntie” proudly shows Suzhou’s new development, but also cries about her father’s persecution during China’s Anti-Rightist Campaign. “For my relatives, the cost of remembering the past is high,” says the filmmaker. “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.”

Shot in 1995, when China’s economic growth began to take off as the country tried to leave behind its tumultuous past, this film helps students understand modern Chinese history – and how the past is rendered through individual memory.


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 school, academic, and public libraries.
Helen McCullough
MC Journal: the Journal of Academic Media Librarianship
Very inspiring.... subtle, serious, thoughtful. It looks at complex, even messy, personal and historical events without trying to resolve them.”
Ross McElwee
Harvard Univeristy and Director ("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
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
Former Curator, Harvard Film Archive
American Girl: Review of Julie Mallozzi’s "Once Removed"

Awards and Screenings

BFVF Award, New England Film and Video Festival
Honorable Mention, Columbus International Film Festival
World Premiere, Museum of Fine Arts Boston
First Place, National Council on Family Relations Media Competition
Film Fest New Haven
Roxbury Film Festival, Boston
Viewpoint series, WGBH-TV
Asian Studies Association Conference, San Diego

Director Commentary

Having grown up in rural Ohio with a Chinese-American mother and an Italian-American father, I always felt somewhat disconnected from my Asian roots. After graduating from college, I decided to learn Mandarin with the hope of traveling to China to meet our relatives there. My mother had not returned in the 50 years since she had left as a child.

My family in China met me with open arms. I was full of questions about their lives and our ancestors. I had looked forward to glorious tales about our family’s history as educated intellectuals who helped develop China’s sciences and industry. I hadn’t expected to hear tales of kidnapping, imprisonment, torture, and murder. These stories were important for me to hear. They gave me nightmares but also an understanding of how my family’s story – like that of many families in China – is intricately connected with 20th century Chinese political movements.

I hope that this film can help enlighten viewers today about how events such as the Chinese Civil War, the Anti-Rightist Campaign, and the Cultural Revolution affected everyday people. I also hope it makes us reflect on the complex intersection between history and memory.

Features and Languages

Film/Audio Languages

  • English
  • Chinese

Subtitle/Caption Languages

  • English

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