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If this is the present, what is our future?

Total Trust is an eye-opening and deeply disturbing story of surveillance technology, abuse of power and (self-)censorship that confronts us with what can happen when our privacy is ignored. Through the haunting stories of people in China who have been monitored, intimidated and even tortured, the film tells of the dangers of technology in the hands of unbridled power. Taking China as a mirror, Total Trust sounds an alarm about the increasing use of surveillance tools around the world – even by democratic governments like those in Europe. If this is the present, what is our future? 




Screenings in the UK

BBC iPlayer

February 21, 00:00

it is deeply troubling to see how slickly data and digital technology can be used to subjugate a population.

~ The Guardian ~

Watch on BBC iPlayer


Screenings in Germany

Find a theater near you

Since October 5th in theatres.

Shocking and stirring

~ Süddeutsche Zeitung

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Gloria 2, Stuttgart

June 20, 18:45

SWR Dokufestival

Nominated for the “Deutscher Dokumentarfilmpreis 2024”

and the Audience Award.

Together with the MFG, SWR has been awarding the German Documentary Film Prize since 2009, since 2017 as part of the annual SWR Dokufestival.

Screening followed by a discussion with Producer Saskia Kress.

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Screenings in Italy

Mondovisioni on Tour

Until September 2024 Total Trust will be on Tour in Italy with Mondovisioni

For 15 years, the Mondovisioni festival organised by CineAgenzia together with the weekly magazine Internazionale has presented the most exciting and urgent documentaries on current affairs, human rights and information, selected by the major festivals and proposed exclusively for Italy. After having premiered at Internazionale in Ferrara Total Trust is now on Tour around Italy.

Subtitles: Italian

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Interview with Jialing Zhang, director

Why is the film called “Total Trust”? 

Following the early stages of the pandemic, the Chinese authorities made the somewhat doubtful claim that 98% of people in China said they trust the government. This is the “total trust” to which the film’s title ironically refers. It’s a trust that’s manipulated or mispresented. 


Do you see this as something taken straight out of George Orwell’s 1984?  

I think the situation in our hi-tech era is different from Orwell’s 1984. As suggested by the film’s title, the government not only controls people through fear, but also through trust, using more efficient censorship and propaganda methods, which are becoming increasingly sophisticated and powerful, with the advent of artificial intelligence. Many governments across the world are rolling out public surveillance at different levels in the name of the public security or public health, especially since the pandemic. 


Do you see mass surveillance as a “global” threat?  

Yes. While the film focuses on the stories of people in China, we hope to expand the conversation beyond and further. We have this vision since we started making the film. Technology concerns every one of us. The film is about humanity. It asks the urgent question, what kind of future societies are we heading to?  


It’s not a simple west/east, democracy/autocracy binary. While a lot of eyes are on Chinese tech companies, the responsibilities of international tech giants such as Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, Amazon etc are often ignored. For example, Apple deleted tens of thousands of apps from its Chinese App Stores, and it limited its parameters for wireless file sharing on AirDrop after its use by anti-government protesters in China last November. 


These tech giants are basically running today’s internet. Their human rights practices in the face of government pressures should be made more transparent and monitored more closely. There should be industry regulations at global level, as well as within each country. 


What would you like viewers to take away from having watched Total Trust?  

On an emotional level, I want people to feel anger and horror. Anger about what governments can do to an individual’s life. Horror at how authorities can observe citizens in such detail and use data to control their lives and movements. But above all, I want them to feel hope. Hope because there are brave individuals who want to advocate for a better future and fight for justice.  

Surveillance worldwide 

Globally, the surveillance tech industry has grown rapidly and is expected to be worth more than $230 billion by 2027.  


As France prepares for the 2024 Olympics in Paris, the government is pushing to introduce powers that would allow it to use AI-assisted video surveillance. Video footage from CCTV cameras and drones would be monitored by AI and any activity considered “abnormal” by an AI algorithm would immediately be flagged to law enforcement.  


In Germany, there is growing debate over the use of “crime prediction” software which uses big data to create profiles of suspects before any crime has been committed. Privacy campaigners warn that this would allow the police to gather data on innocent people without justification. 

Four former senior representatives of German company Finfisher were recently charged with selling surveillance technology to countries outside the EU, including Egypt, Myanmar and Turkey, without official export authorization from the government. 


In Netherlands, the use of discriminatory AI tools led to vulnerable and marginalised groups being accused of benefits fraud. Nearly 70 percent of those singled out were first- or second-generation migrants—for investigation. A huge scandal erupted, with the Dutch Data Protection Authority found that the government had illegally used nationality as a variable, which Amnesty International compared to “digital ethnic profiling.” The EU’s AI Act would prevent this. The Netherlands is now among countries pushing for an AI Act that will safeguard human rights. 


In the UK, in 2020, there were approximately 5.2 million CCTV cameras in operation meaning that UK citizens can be captured on a CCTV camera more than 70 times per day. The Public Order Bill (2023) has introduced clampdowns on protesters, including the introduction of Serious Disruption Prevention Orders. These allow UK courts to preemptively ban affected individuals from being in certain places at certain times, even if they have not committed an offence, and could lead to the individual being electronically monitored to ensure compliance. 

Following the decision to overthrow Roe v Wade in the US, concerns were raised that law enforcement may be able to access personal data from period tracking apps to bring charges against women seeking reproductive healthcare. In Nebraska, Meta gave police access to the private messages of a 17-year-old girl who underwent an abortion following a miscarriage. 


The EU’s border agency, Frontex, has increased the use of surveillance technology including drones to monitor migrant populations. Since 2007, the EU has spent €340 million on research into artificial intelligence for border control purposes.  


Along the US-Mexico border, surveillance towers have been installed to detect migrants. The surveillance system not only monitors the border but extends for 100 miles into the United States and includes the use of drones, license plate readers and facial recognition software. 


Across the globe, security services, governments, companies, and hackers are using spyware technologies such as Pegasus that enable third parties to snoop on devices without detection. These technologies are being used to monitor the activities of citizens, human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, diplomats, businesspeople, and academics. 


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The Impact Campaign for Total Trust is a project by Interactive Media Foundation gGmbH. The Film Total Trust was produced by Filmtank in coproduction with Witfilm and Interactive Media Foundation gGmbH, ZDF/Arte, NTR. World Sales: Cinephil. Interactive Media Foundation is a non-profit limited liability company.


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