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

    US Internet Giants, EU Reach Deal to Combat Online Hate Speech

    Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft commit to ‘quickly and efficiently’ act to clamp down on use of social media to incite violence, terror

    Video Tunisia’s Ennahda Party Begins a New Political Chapter

    Party now moves to separate its political and religious activities; change described by party members as pragmatic response to political and economic challenges facing Tunisia today

    Virtual Reality Fine-tuned at Asia Tech Show

    Microchip designers hope to improve resolution for users of systems that can turn your bedroom into the ocean floor

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conferencei
    X
    Serginho Roosblad
    May 30, 2016 5:11 PM
    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conference

    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video US Military's Fallen Honored With Flags

    Memorial Day is a long weekend for most Americans. For some, it is the unofficial start of summer -- local swimming pools open and outdoor grilling season begins. But Memorial Day remains true to its origins -- a day to remember the U.S. military's fallen.
    Video

    Video Rolling Thunder Rolls Into Washington

    The Rolling Thunder caravan of motorcycles rolled into Washington Sunday, to support the U.S. military on the country's Memorial Day weekend
    Video

    Video A New Reading Program Pairs Kids with Dogs

    Dogs, it is said, are man's best friend. What some researchers have discovered is that they can also be a friend to a struggling reader. A group called Intermountain Therapy Animals trains dogs to help all kinds of kids with reading problems — from those with special needs to those for whom English is a second language. Faiza Elmasry has more on the New York chapter of R.E.A.D., or Reading Education Assistance Dogs, in this piece narrated by Faith Lapidus.
    Video

    Video Fan Base Grows for Fictional Wyoming Sheriff Longmire

    Around the world, the most enduring symbol of the U.S. is that of the cowboy. A very small percentage of Americans live in Western rural areas, and fewer still are cowboys. But the fascination with the American West is kept alive by such cultural offerings as “Longmire,” a series of books and TV episodes about a fictional Wyoming sheriff. VOA’s Greg Flakus recently spoke with Longmire’s creator, Craig Johnson, and filed this report from Houston.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora