All Eyes and Ears

Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah and a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, is reportedly slated to be Donald Trump’s ambassador to Russia. Filmmaker Vanessa Hope’s documentary centers on Huntsman’s ambassadorship to China under Barack Obama from 2009-11, which was a natural fit since Huntsman speaks fluent Mandarin (he was once a Mormon missionary in Taiwan). All Eyes and Ears also emphasizes the experience of his daughter Gracie Mei, an abandoned infant whom the Huntsmans adopted from a Chinese orphanage in 1999. Gracie returned to her Chinese homeland with her parents, and the film offers fly-on-the-wall footage both of the ambassador fulfilling the duties of his post—negotiating with leaders, interacting with people on the street, taking a trip to Tibet—and of Gracie reacquainting herself with the country of her birth. The juxtaposition of the political and the personal makes for a diverting portrait of a family in often challenging circumstances that they all handle quite deftly. One of the major demands of diplomatic service in China involves maintaining good relations with the government while also acknowledging protestors, a balancing act addressed here in the case of Chen Guangcheng, a blind dissident jailed for bringing legal action against the regime’s one-child policy and kept under house arrest even following his release in 2010. Guangcheng eventually escaped, took refuge in the American embassy, and emigrated to the U.S.—although not until 2012, after Huntsman’s resignation. All Eyes and Ears sometimes feels like a panegyric, but it’s certainly an appealing portrait. Extras include additional scenes. Recommended. Aud: C, P. (F. Swietek)