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SLC Film Center
Heartbroken parents show a photo of their missing 5-year-old.

At one point in the documentary, the mother of a missing child asks the all-important question: "How do the families who buy a kidnapped child get away with it?"

This is China, after all, where one child per family is the law. This is China, where the government has plenty of staff to track down women who are pregnant without permission. So, why isn't there an investigation when a couple who has never had a permit for a child tries to register a 5-year-old for school? Or shows up with a 2-year-old and offers to pay the penalty for not reporting him?

Tonight, the film "China's Stolen Children" is being brought to Utah by the Salt Lake City Film Center (see below). Directed by Jezza Neumann, the documentary was produced by Kate Blewett and Brian Woods, who have won Peabody and Emmy awards for previous films. "China's Stolen Children" is the 2008 winner of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts prize for Best Current Affairs Program.

The filmmakers worked undercover in that the government didn't know what they were doing. They came into the country on regular tourist visas and were careful to change SIM cards in their cell phones after each call.

And yet they were not totally undercover because they were able to persuade a trafficker as well as some parents to talk to them on camera. Watching the film, the viewer realizes that the parents, who have not broken any laws, are likely to be in trouble with the government for daring to talk to Westerners.

In the end, this documentary is disturbing on a number of levels, not the least of which is that half way through we learn that the detective who has been hired to recover stolen children spends his free time hanging out with a convicted child trafficker.

Also, at one point, this same detective tells his mother he is quitting the business of trying to find missing children because it is too dangerous. Meanwhile, he keeps reassuring the heartbroken parents, who are apparently paying him, that he will never stop looking for their babies.

It is hard to know what to make of the premise of this documentary. The premise is that China's one-child policy has spawned a nightmare. Yet the viewers find themselves thinking there is more to the story. The viewers come away suspicious of everyone, including the neighbors of a missing boy, neighbors who the detective is apparently not going to try to track down. Viewers wonder if the heartbroken parents only had enough money and knew who to bribe, if they might easily get their boy back.

The filmmakers say that 70,000 children are sold every year in China. Some significant percentage of those who are sold may actually be sold by their own parents. That phenomena is so common that one little boy who was kidnapped and recovered said that the entire time he was living with his new parents he was convinced his real parents had sold him.

If you go

What: China's Stolen Children

Where: Rose Wagner Center, 138 W. 300 South

When: tonight, 7 p.m.

How much: free

Phone: 746-7000

Web: www.slcfilmcenter.org

Also: The film will be shown July 14 on HBO; check local listings.

E-mail: [email protected]