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Fallen City #fallencity

Premiere Date: July 28, 2014

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Ask the Filmmaker

Fallen City filmmaker Qi Zhao

On Tuesday, July 29, 2014, filmmaker Qi Zhao of the POV documentary Fallen City took your questions during an online chat about making an intimate documentary that reveals a country torn between tradition and modernity.

POV: Welcome to POV's live chat with Qi Zhao, the filmmaker of Fallen City. We'll get started at 11 AM ET (8 AM PT).

POV: Please feel free to post your questions ahead of time and we'll queue them up for the filmmaker...

Qi Zhao: hi, this is Qi

POV: We're going to get started now. Welcome, Qi. Thank you for joining us!

Qi Zhao: the pleasure is mine

POV: How long did it take to make Fallen City? Could you describe the process very briefly?

Qi Zhao: it took me 4 years to make the film

Qi Zhao: almost 3 years for shooting

Qi Zhao: one year for ppd

Qi Zhao: it is a tough but good experience.

POV: That's great. How did you find all of the main subjects and why did you choose them? What was it about Mr. and Mrs. Peng, Li Guihua and Hong Shihao that drew you to them?

Qi Zhao: t is always a sort of fate to find your characters in a doc...

Qi Zhao: I met with these people in the very beginning when the earthquake happened...

Qi Zhao: but Mr. Peng, Li Guihua and Hong are the few who allowed us to get into their world and their hearts...

Qi Zhao: they are the people from the scratch, but they are great at the same time, with courage and wills. I really adore them.

POV: How did you establish trust with your subjects?

Qi Zhao: it can be a simple process, or hard one...

Qi Zhao: We stayed together for long time, we eat together and talked a lot...

Qi Zhao: I think Chinese from rural area are more ready to accept people ...

Qi Zhao: They don't concern much about privacy as long as you become their friend...

Qi Zhao: when you really care for them, they trust you.

POV: What was the biggest challenge making your film?

Qi Zhao: well, raising money is one of the biggest challenge making the film...

Qi Zhao: There is no public fund in China supporting such films...

Qi Zhao: the other challenge in the creative part is that...

Qi Zhao: it is not easy to weave three characters into one film.

POV: Were there other subjects you considered, but left out?

Qi Zhao: yeah, we did follow over 10 people in the beginning...

Qi Zhao: we lost contact with some of them as there was no stable mobile nor address after the earthquake...

Qi Zhao: we finally followed 4 characters all the way until the end...

Qi Zhao: and we took one off the film as it was a similar story with Mr. Peng's.

POV: What was your greatest satisfaction in making this film?

Qi Zhao: well, it is a hard film to make, taking me 4 years...

Qi Zhao: as long as I finally made it, i am already more than happy...

Qi Zhao: and it is greater that the film has been recognized by the world.

POV: In terms of weaving together three character's stories, were there any other documentaries you looked towards for inspiration?

Qi Zhao: if I say Pulp Fiction?...

Qi Zhao: actually I am more into writings to get inspirations for that....

Qi Zhao: I tend to weave the three characters with a type of similar emotion all the way through...

Qi Zhao: it is just like one's free and random thinking...

Qi Zhao: it flows, changes course, but with a reason, either a rock beneath the water, or a timber on the water...

Qi Zhao: I think I did it, and I hope audience would have no problem for that.

POV: Thank you. We now have a question from a POV viewer:

Comment From Guest: What an amazing film. How has this film altered your creativity and/or sent your career down a different path?

Qi Zhao: thanks...

Qi Zhao: I was trying to show something more than just factual scenes...

Qi Zhao: but it is not easy, especially for a documentary, while there is no acting...

Qi Zhao: so, I hope to build up a loose connection in order to create space for viewers...

Qi Zhao: I personally love this style, something like Tarkovsky, the Russian Filmmaker

Qi Zhao: but usually it is not very compact for TV viewers...

Qi Zhao: so, really thank you for that.

Comment From Fred Caserta: This film resonated with me and my family... it allowed us to peer into an aspect of Chinese culture.

Qi Zhao: that's part of the message...

Qi Zhao: i hope people would see more than just an earthquake...

Qi Zhao: actually i was thinking the destroyed city of Beichuan was like the China in Ancient times...

Qi Zhao: the new city is the fasting growing China today...

Qi Zhao: it is a rethinking into my country and culture as well for me.

Comment From Fred Caserta: The transitions, from an earlier scene to then a more current one was wild... it really conveyed the passing of time, healing, and a fading away to some degree as well as renewal... amazing.

Qi Zhao: Thank you, Fred.

Comment From Fred Caserta: I've lost a child and recently lost my father so this film spoke to me in a very personal way. It also is a reminder that loss is universal.

Qi Zhao: I am sorry for that, but yes, we do share a lot in common, if we can look deep.

POV: How did making the film change your preconceptions of modern China?

Qi Zhao: sometimes, i am only in silence in some situation...

Qi Zhao: Yes, POV...

Qi Zhao: I personally think China goes too fast without much consideration of what has lost on the way...

Qi Zhao: we need something in heart to believe, and to keep life going...

Qi Zhao: spiritual belief is missing as a public product here...

Qi Zhao: I hope we can go a bit slower, and see the path more clearly either way where we come from and where we are about to go.

POV: Are you in touch now with any of the characters?

Qi Zhao: yes, I do...

Qi Zhao: I always call Mr. Pengs. they are still living in the new city of Beichuan...

Qi Zhao: no kid...

Qi Zhao: Li Guihua will be out of jail soon. We are about to shoot something when she gets out...

Qi Zhao: and Hong once worked with me as a camera person for a year...

Qi Zhao: he now is learning western cooking at a restaurant in North East China.

POV: How would you like to describe the film stylistically? Tell us a little about your aesthetic choices.

Qi Zhao: it is not a very strong compact linear story…like Last Train Home, which i produced...

Qi Zhao: it is loosely connected, with emotion logic all the way through…

Qi Zhao: it is more like a prose, or a poem, but not like a novel…

Qi Zhao: I like this style because I believe it will bring more space for viewers to think…it helps to create a space for viewers to reflects their own world...

Qi Zhao: I think Fred also mentioned that just now...

Qi Zhao: as for my aesthetic choices, I really adore Tarkovsky's work, and I get inspiration from Jean-Paul Sartre Novel...

Qi Zhao: I did ask my editor to check his novel Nausee to get inspiration for editing.

Comment From Fred Caserta: Thanks for taking my question!

Qi Zhao: it is my pleasure Fred.

Qi Zhao: Hope you are well.

POV: What is it like to be an independent filmmaker now in China?

Qi Zhao: It is not a promising job, no one can make a living by making indie docs here…

Qi Zhao: However, it is the best job as well coz China is the place with great stories....

Qi Zhao: creatively speaking, it is a great experience working in China as an indie filmmaker…but it takes courage and sacrifice as well.

POV: How does Fallen City fit into the broader independent documentary scene in China?

Qi Zhao: there are fewer indie docs being made every year in China these days…

Qi Zhao: Fallen City is not in theater so only professionals and people love indie docs would talk about it and study it...

Qi Zhao: However, it is on IQiYi, a video web portal in China with around a million clicks…

Qi Zhao: and Shanghai documentary channel also aired the film, the rating was not bad.

POV: Congratulations.

POV: What does it mean to have your film on POV, American public television?

Qi Zhao: it is a great honor and a great chance…

Qi Zhao: not because you are asking...

Qi Zhao: :)...

Qi Zhao: it changed my original opinion of what US audience usually want to watch…

Qi Zhao: and i learn the various tastes and styles a US doc strand can hold, which is great.

Comment From Emma Moley: What do you think the American audience will learn from your film?

Qi Zhao: i hope they can in spired and feel something, whatever… and take them back…

Qi Zhao: either information about current China, that how it grows, how it build up new city, etc...

Qi Zhao: understand how Chinese are living and pining for in life...

Qi Zhao: or more meditation about life or death, if I was able to create enough space for viewers to think...

Qi Zhao: in general, I mean, some will get some information, some will get inspiration, and this is all great...

Qi Zhao: I hope this answers you question, Emma.

Comment From Emma Moley: Thanks for answering my question!

Comment From Fred Caserta: Would you ever consider directing and producing a film about Chinese Americans?

Comment From Fred Caserta: I have friends who are Chinese American and there are varying degrees of disconnect it seams at times... theire culture runs very deep and it seems as if there can at times be a tough struggle to grapple with.

Qi Zhao: culture conflict is interesting...

Qi Zhao: you may introduce your friend to me, I would love to meet them.

Qi Zhao: especially a Chinese American...

Qi Zhao: i mean, we will have lots of things to discuss, between China and American...

Qi Zhao: a person's confusion can be the reflective to what the two countries are facing.

Comment From Fred Caserta: Definitely! Feel free to reach out to me on Facebook!

POV: If you have one piece of advice for first time filmmaker, what would it be?

Qi Zhao: i would be able to use facebook when I am traveling abroad.

Qi Zhao: Yes, POV

Qi Zhao: my advice would be...

Qi Zhao: being patient...

Qi Zhao: it takes long to make a documentary, but it is the reward to your life as well...

Qi Zhao: I notice, at least in China, many first filmmakers just want to make their debut in days…

Qi Zhao: and they also expect the first film will get internationally famous as well....

Qi Zhao: it is very much like China's GDP growth...

Qi Zhao: I think being patient is to give yourself a chance to see life and yourself, and it is the same for one's career as well in general.

POV: What are you working on next?

Qi Zhao: I am usually a producer…

Qi Zhao: so i am producing a new film…

Qi Zhao: it is also about current China, but a more solid and hard story…

Qi Zhao: it is about the China developing model and its dilemma…

Qi Zhao: told by a story of a mayor who is pushing giant demolishing in his city in order to give way to restore the Ancient relic walls, which, he believed, would bring a different economic model…

Qi Zhao: it is about making choice between individual value and collective good, and short vision profit and long term interest…

Qi Zhao: That's China, that fast to catch, and that complicated to understand, even for us.

Qi Zhao: :)

POV: Your upcoming film sounds fascinating, Qi. What stage of production is it currently in?

Qi Zhao: it is almost picture locked...

Qi Zhao: i will submit the film for POV for selection...

Qi Zhao: hope you people will like it.

POV: Thank, Qi, we look forward to watching it!

Qi Zhao: Thank you!

POV: We are ending the online chat now. Thanks for your time today, Qi.

POV: And thanks to everyone who wrote in! Great questions today.

Qi Zhao: And thanks for everyone.

POV: Continue the conversation on social media with the hashtag #fallencity.

POV: We're excited that Fallen City will be available for full streaming online starting today until August 28, 2014 on the POV website. http://www.pbs.org/pov/fallencity/full.php

POV: Visit the Fallen City companion site to learn more about the film! http://www.pbs.org/pov/fallencity/.

Qi Zhao: i enjoy this conversation much. Please check the online streaming. thanks again!

Qi Zhao: Bye





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