News / Asia

Q&A with Qi Zhao: The Fallen City of Beichuan

The mountain city of Beichuan.
The mountain city of Beichuan.
Ray Kouguell

A massive earthquake which struck Sichuan province on May 12, 2008 killed almost 70,000 people, China’s deadliest in thirty years. The mountain city of Beichuan was wiped out leaving 20,000 dead. The documentary Fallen City focuses on the lives of three families who suffered personal loss, how they endured their new permanent displacement, and the emotional toll it took to move on.

Hong is a 14-year-old who lost his father, buried under the rubble. The relationship with his mother begins to fall apart as do his studies in school. Hong fails his high school entrance exams and starts to lead a solitary existence of sleep and playing video games.

Mr. and Mrs. Peng are a couple in their 30’s, devastated over the loss of their 11-year-old daughter who died in a school collapse and themselves left homeless from the earthquake. Mrs. Peng cannot cope and moves away to grieve in Shanghai.

53-year-old divorcee Li Guihua suffers the loss of her daughter, three sisters, and three year old granddaughter. She is left to care for her paraplegic mother and a job as community director for temporary housing.

As their narratives unfold, the old city of Beichuan is abandoned, and a new one with modern conveniences built 20 kilometers away in just two years through the help of several Chinese provinces. About 30,000 people are relocated.

Fallen City is written and directed by Qi Zhao who focuses on both the personal stories and the bureaucratic influences facing the survivors in the earthquake’s aftermath. VOA’s Ray Kouguell spoke with Zhao, who is based in Beijing, about his deeply heartfelt reaction to the death and destruction and their effects on the filmmaking.

Q&A with Qi Zhao: The Fallen City of Beichuan
Q&A with Qi Zhao: The Fallen City of Beichuani
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

ZHAO: When the earthquake happened, as a filmmaker, I think maybe I need to go there and record something but in the very beginning I didn’t realize what a film I’m going to make in the future. But I was there and because it seems that there are all the press in the world, at least from China, they all gathered in the city to report the heavy earthquake. I was thinking maybe I want to do something different. It’s most on the feeling, the inner feeling that when you have seen the chaotic situation everywhere that I was hoping to shoot something that can make myself calm down so I was shooting in a quite slow and steady style in the beginning but then after maybe half a year shooting, I began to look for my characters. Then in the later parts of shooting I began to focus more about people’s lives. And also I think, that somehow, fall into reflection about what’s happening in China in general, in a big picture. If something refers to the past and then something huge happened very quickly that drives people out of [the] past and put them into [the] present.

KOUGUELL: How receptive were the survivors you talked with?

ZHAO: It’s a very painful story for them to recall when they try to heal themselves. Many of the interviews were taken after a year and a half. But at that time I find that they were also to some extent willing to talk. It seems they have hidden something in their hearts for so long and then when it’s a good time in the day are willing to pour out their feeling.

KOUGUELL:  While making the film did you experience any significant emotions?

ZHAO: Yes, actually it’s a pretty big problem for me, in the very beginning because this was really something I had never seen before in life, the bodies. You have that in Hollywood movies but you never really have that in the real life. A movie is a movie, but real life it’s a different story. So when I was there I think I cried a lot. But in order to make myself calm down, I tend to shoot something very large in a very slow mood. Maybe that’s a way to cure myself as well.

KOUGUELL: Is the film trying to say something about rural tradition versus a more modern Chinese government?

ZHAO: I think this is a very subtle message, this is a very subtle feeling but I do have this message in the film. It’s the traditional world that we are familiar with, have been taken away. The new city is very posh. It’s [a] very modern society, modern China. How the story goes on the characters reflect how the whole generation right now in China goes.

KOUGUELL: Do you think those of us who have not experienced a natural disaster of such a magnitude could learn something from the film and something about the human condition?

ZHAO:  I hope so, of course, and also how the real grassroots people feel. I hope this film has more depth for people to get into. But I think people will get the information because I think the film is quite complicated and with different layers for people to understand.

KOUGUELL: Zhao’s documentary offers shocking scenes of Beichuan’s devastation, the loneliness felt by his subjects, and a follow up to their lives three years later. Zhao is a thoughtful filmmaker who succeeds in taking the viewer past the melancholy and asks questions about what it takes for a slow recovery in a fast, changing China. It will stay with you. Fallen City was an official selection of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and will be nationally broadcast on U.S. public television on July 28. 

You May Like

Russian Help on Iran Less Promising on Syria, Ukraine

US-Russian collaboration to secure a deal on Iran's nuclear program has raised hopes of closer cooperation on other world issues More

Video US: Millions Exploited by Vast Fortunes of Human Trafficking

State Department's annual report calls exploitation 'modern slavery,' brutalizing girls, women into prostitution and forcing men, women and children into low-wage jobs across the globe More

US-Ethiopia Relationship Strong, But Complicated

While Ethiopia serves as a valuable security ally and a bulwark against terrorism - the U.S., is a major aid donor and economic stimulator More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backersi
X
Michael Bowman
July 26, 2015 8:44 PM
Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Underground Streetcar Station In Washington, DC, to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Rise in HIV Infections Worries Ugandan Officials

Uganda had the third-highest number of new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa last year, reversing its reputation for successfully tackling the epidemic in the 1990s. Although the percentage of people living with HIV/AIDS is still half of what it was in the 1980s, the increase in new infections is worrying to health workers. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs