A Door To Friendship

梁碧波纪录片名人工作坊 央视网 2012年01月31日 15:14 A-A+ 二维码


By Bibo Liang, Zhang Xin


Chengdu, Southwest China. Welcomed by the gentle March rain, ten delegates from Appalshop made their first trip to Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan Province. They were invited by Bibo Liang, a famous local documentary filmmaker, who had visited Whitesburg 2 years ago. This time in Chengdu, a seminar called Chengdu-Appalshop Documentary Conference was held from March 14-16. The conference was dedicated specifically to the study of documentary films in Kentucky and Chengdu. More than 80 Chinese delegates, both academics and practitioners participated.


As an inland city, Chengdu soon realized it was a good opportunity to communicate with the world. Actually, it was also the first time for most of the local documentary filmmakers to receive the American filmmakers at the doorstep. Sponsored by Chengdu Economic TV Station, the conference got great support from the Chengdu TV & Film Association and Chengdu TV Broadcasting Bureau. Six Appalshop films were screened in the studio hall of Chengdu Economic TV Station, which were Stranger With A Camera (Elizabeth Barret), Hazel Dickens---It’s hard to tell the singer from the song (Mimi Pickering), Coal Bucket Outlaw (Tom Hansell), Justice Delayed (Greg Howard), Coalmining Women (Elizabeth Barret), and Whoa, Mule (Herb E. Smith). Dave Reynolds made a special presentation on the distribution of Appalshop films; Maureen Mullinax introduced the youth training project AMI ( Appalachian Media Institute ) to Chengdu filmmakers.


Being a part of the exchange plan, Bibo Liang’s latest work Old Photos 1910-1913 came under the spotlight. Bibo Liang starts his career in 1992 and has won dozens of awards both at home and abroad, including AA. To Bibo, making Old Photos is an adventure, in which he tries to change his style and find breakthroughs. Old Photos 1910-1913 is about Luther Knight, an American teacher, who began his teaching career at Sichuan Institute of Higher Education in 1910, Chengdu. During his stay, the last imperial dynasty was overthrown. Knight witnessed the great changes and recorded the transition in his photos and letters, till 1913 he died in the city. The story obviously appealed to Appalshop people. They thought that the beautiful pictures shot in the Three Gorges along the Yangtze River were extremely beautiful. In fact, some of the scenes will be submerged forever due to the establishment of the massive Three Gorges Dam.


After each screening, audiences were encouraged to ask questions and make comments. Free talk strengthened the friendship and when the boundaries were broken, people found they could share so many things, from arts to the environmental issues, from media identity to rural values. But unlike the American documentary filmmakers, few Chinese filmmakers are independent ones. Most of them work for the TV stations and in China mainland the government supports TV stations. The stations finance and broadcast the documentary films. The target audience of the film is almost equal to the television coverage population. Fore example, Chengdu Economic TV Station,where Old Photos 1910-1913 is firstly broadcast, covers all areas under Chengdu’s jurisdiction, with 7 districts, 4 cities and 8 counties and covering a total population of more than 12 million. The sponsorship from the TV stations relieves the filmmakers from the concerns of raising fund by themselves. But in another sense, the TV station or the government has the right to determine what kind of stuff the filmmakers should make. That’s the reason why before the 1980’s, documentary films in China are just a part of the propaganda. With the pervasion of the market economy, conditions begin to change and the filmmakers have more choices. Armed with the knowledge of anthropology and sociology, they use the camera to explore people’s souls as well as their voices. The focal point also turns from the people to the individuals.


Nowadays, the documentary filmmakers in China are mainly found in the provincial and municipal TV stations. They usually have years of experience as journalists and the close contact with the grassroots. Born in ’60 and ’70, the filmmakers is a hybrid young group, influenced both by Chinese traditional culture and western modern ides. Their special background enables them to perceive the world in a unique way and have a good understanding to the culture from which they grow up. Documentary films to them are no longer only for education and entertainment. They are serving for a larger strategy, in which people can see both sides of an issue. What unveils by the camera are influencing people’s thinking and motivating them for further actions. AA(举例. The power of the documentary films creates an interesting phenomenon, which is the filmmaker’s pivotal role has extended from the filmmaking to their organization, i.e. the TV station.


Although the documentary filmmakers in China are generally the elite of journalists, the biggest problem they are facing is lacking exchanges with the rest of the documentary film world. Appalshop’s films make them excited. They realize American documentary films are not only the National Geography or the Discovery Channel (which can be seen in the local cable TV for 30 or 60 minutes a day). Some people in the United States are doing the same job as they do in China---- to explore the social issues, to speak for the common people and to get the true story. After the screenings, Chinese documentary filmmakers said they were happy to find the mirror. “ It’s the first lot American social documentary films I’ve ever seen”, said Xie Ming, a chief documentary filmmaker from Ya’an TV Station, “ they are experimental and they are inspirational.” Many participants like him were also surprised when they saw the poor scenes of the coal miners, coal bucket drivers and the sanitary workers. “ It’s hard to believe that in a rich country like America, there are still a lot of people struggling for their lives.” Appalshop’s film budget gave them another surprise. In Chengdu, 300,000 USD is enough for making as much as 10 films.


As a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and promoting Appalachians culture, Appalshop had not expected to get such a good reaction among the Chengdu filmmakers, a group of people who truly understand their film and greatly appreciated their efforts. Chengdu filmmakers’ questions were mainly concentrated in the technique details, such as how the topic was discovered and how long it took to make such a film. All based on local area, Appalshop’s situation and their problems seemed to be quickly understood by Chengdu filmmakers. But sometimes, funny questions would be raised due to the different culture in China and the US. For example, a Chengdu filmmaker asked why there was no shocking scene in Appalshop’s film, such as the scenes of traffic accident or the working site injury? Herb E. Smith’s answer to this was “ our trick is no trick”. In general, the feedback from the Chengdu filmmaker made Appalshop people to think deeper. Tom Hansell said:“ I never dreamed my film would be put up in China. It’s a totally wonderful experience. When I make my next film, I guess I will think more internationally.” “ To think the world from another perspective”, added by Elizabeth Barret.

The conference was followed by a culture visit in and around Chengdu. Located in a fertile land, Chengdu was founded in the 3rd century BC. Its name could be translated as “ Perfect City” or “Becoming Capital”. Far from the political center, Chengdu was spared from warfare and many historical sites there were well preserved. Appalshop delegation had a busy schedule covering 5 historical sites. They are Temple of Marquis Wu, the Thatched Cottage of Du Fu ( a famous poet, 712-770 AD), the Giant Buddha, the Sanxingdui Pre-history Museum and Dujiangyan Irrigation Project, a water management system built 2,000 years ago and being still working. Moreover, the trip became more colorful by a visit to the Giant Panda Reserve, watching Sichuan Opera and a taste of Chuan flavor dishes, including it’s symbolic cuisine ---- hot pot.


The delegation spent their last day in visiting Xinjin, a small county 28 kilometers away from Chengdu. Mountains of blooming pear flowers remained the Americans of their hometown. They had their dinner at a farmer’s house. The hospitable owner offered an authentic country banquet. The standard of being a good host there is to persuade the guests to drink more and more. Herb E. Smith said: “ It’s an amazing place. We feel like home.” 


The communication between Chengdu and Appalshop leaves deep impressions to both sides---- when people said good-bye to each other, they cried In a letter Dave Reynolds wrote to his friend Bibo Liang, he said: “I was so impressed by Chengdu and China.  I have to say that when you came and stayed with us in Whitesburg, It changed the way I thought about China.  And now after visiting you there, my thinking has radically changed again.  China is so different than the way it is represented in our media here in America…you have a wonderful city and a wonderful country.” It’s also a wonderful memory for all Chengdu filmmakers. They hope this kind of exchange activity will keep coming because the door to friendship has been open.



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