In July 2014, POV asked Fallen City filmmaker Qi Zhao what’s happened since the camera stopped rolling.
What has happened in the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Peng, Li Guihua and Hong Shihao since the end of the film?
It has been six years since the earthquake. The Pengs are now living in the new city of Beichuan, they have a loan for a new flat, and they have chosen to stay together. They still haven’t got a baby. It seems they will never have one. Mrs. Peng’s younger sister, who lost a son in the earthquake — the boy in the picture in the film — had another daughter and Mrs. Peng is help taking care of the baby. Their life is peaceful.
Li Guihua is still in prison. We haven’t had a chance to meet her again. She will be out of jail in October 2015. We will try to connect with her when she gets out.
Hong’s life has changed dramatically. He first quit his technical school as he found it boring. He wanted to learn Western cooking, but his mother refused to support him as she thought it has no future and because no one would like Western food in Beichuan. Hong dilly-dallied in the new city of Beichuan then met a girl, and he made her pregnant. His mother worried much and found him a job as an apprentice to repair cars, but he didn’t like that either. Afterwards, he contacted us looking for any chance to make documentaries in Beijing. We found a “run-boy” vacancy and he stayed with us for a year. He learned basic camera skills and sound knowledge and began use Final Cut Pro. During his stay in Beijing, his mother had a second son in a new marriage, and Hong felt awkward to go home during the spring festival in 2014. Finally, he decided to learn Western cooking after discussing it with us. With some savings he earned in the year, he went to Shenyang, some 680 kilometers (420 miles) to the northeast of Beijing. He is now learning cooking and dreams to open his restaurant in Beijing.
Have the residents of Beichuan seen the film? Or have there been reactions from other viewers in China you can share with us?
We haven’t had any screenings in Beichuan yet as we don’t have a film permit in China. We’ve only shown the film at some public or private screening houses. However, we were able to locate many such places through social networks in Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, Chengdu, Guangzhou, etc. The government didn’t react much, since the film was bought by Shanghai Documentary Channel. I think the film is in the limits of the tolerance of the local government at least.
Hong Shihao shared the film online with his friends and asked them to spread the film through social networks, so we guess some young people have watched the film. According to Hong, they like it and they began to realize life is not easy at all when they read the story in the film. Hong has watched the film many times, he even sometimes help arrange private screenings when he stayed in Beijing with us. He said it made him grow so much.
What has surprised you most since the film’s completion?
I would say, life is more dramatic than fiction, such as when I learned of Hong’s story after the completion of the film. As long as one is patient enough, he, as a documentary filmmaker, will be rewarded in time.
What are your future hopes for the film?
I hope we will have a better social and community engagement plan for the film in the future. I may not have a chance for the film to be shown in Chinese cinemas, but I do believe the film has a great potential for discussion and conversations on various aspects about China. I aim to carry the film to both the academic and the grassroots level, and to start dialogue about questions raised in the film.
What are you working on next?
I am producing a new feature-length documentary now and it is to be released very soon. It is about how a controversial mayor in China uses the great power of the party system to demolish an old city and build up a new one that he believes is good for his citizens in the long term, but that created confrontation in the short term.