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Survivors of a Deadly Earthquake in China Face Trauma and Uncertainty In POV's 'Fallen City,' Monday, July 28, 2014 on PBS

   

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New City Rises Where 2008 Quake Wiped Out Town of 20,000; Residents Must Overcome Legacy of Loss, Grief and Fear

A Co-production of ITVS International. A Co-presentation with the Center for Asian American Media.

"A quiet paean to human resourcefulness and resilience in the worst of circumstances." — Neil Young, The Hollywood Reporter

Even for a country historically plagued by earthquakes, the 2008 quake in the Sichuan province was devastating. Nearly 70,000 people were killed and thousands more were missing and never found, making it the deadliest quake in the country in three decades. The old town of Beichuan, home to 20,000 people, was reduced to rubble. Fallen City is a revealing account of contemporary China's response to the disaster: Within a scant two years, the government built a new and apparently improved town close to the old Beichuan.

Fallen City is the haunting story of the survivors, whose grief over the past and anxiety about the future cannot be resolved in bricks and mortar or erased by cheerful government propaganda about "the new Beichuan." In today's China, even the worst disaster can be an occasion for celebrating the country's achievements and its anticipated great future. Yet in China, as elsewhere--and as movingly captured by Fallen City--suffering in the face of death and displacement follows a path determined more by humanity's search for meaning than by the politics of the day.

Qi Zhao's Fallen City, an Official Selection of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, has its national broadcast premiere on Monday, July 28, 2014 at 10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) as part of the 27th season of POV (Point of View), American television's longest-running independent documentary series. POV is the recipient of a 2013 MacArthur Foundation Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

 

Filmed over three years, Fallen City follows three stories of survivors struggling with loss and an uncertain future. Hong Shihao, only 14 years old, is coping with his father's death. He spends a lot of time among the old town's ruins, has increasingly strained relations with his mother, and sees his grades dropping. Under constant pressure about his studies, Hong runs away, putting his chances of going to university in jeopardy.

Mr. and Mrs. Peng, in their 30s, lost their only daughter when her school collapsed. She was 11 years old. Mr. Peng stays in a house overlooking the disaster site, tending to the family farm, while his wife flees town to recover. Other couples in similar circumstances decide quickly to have children again, but Mr. Peng can't get over the feeling that having another child would be a betrayal of his daughter's memory. When his wife returns, they go on to rebuild their world of two and discover a stronger love.

The story of Li Guihua adds a revealing twist to the film's portrait of old and new Beichuan. A divorced woman in her 50s, Li lost nearly her entire family--her daughter, granddaughter and three sisters. As she struggles to care for her paralyzed mother, who no longer recognizes her, she takes on the added burden of helping to run temporary housing for the survivors and overseeing their transition to the new town. It is a role that puts her squarely in the middle of growing allegations of corruption and favoritism in the process.

Fallen City takes place mostly against the eerily poetic backdrop of rubble and ruin that is old Beichuan. Survivors wander aimlessly, as if searching for clues to their lost lives. Dogs, cats, insects and fresh shoots of grass are the only residents now. The new town, noisily rising block by block nearby, becomes a jarring second setting for the film. The voice of the government, broadcast in a seemingly continuous loop over televisions and loudspeakers, confidently proclaims, "The new Beichuan will be a safe, beautiful and culturally rich city."

Yet the new Beichuan, for all its gleaming surfaces and the amazing speed with which it was built, is not what it seems. Residents complain about favoritism in apartment assignments, higher-than-expected costs and the poor quality and livability of the new constructions. Has the new Beichuan become a vehicle for enriching the wealthy and well-connected rather than a lifeline for the old town's residents?

Clear-eyed and moving, Fallen City is about ordinary rural Chinese people searching for hope, meaning and identity amid the ruins of their familiar world. The film explores their hearts and minds as they try to rebuild in a town displaced both by nature and by politics, becoming a collective image of a nation torn between deeply ingrained tradition and relentless modernity.

As they continue to reestablish their lives, Peng, Li and Hong speak for a generation left to reconstruct its own hopes and values. From China's worst natural disaster in decades to a China in the throes of transition and a fragmented developed world, Fallen City crosses boundaries to portray the journeys of people searching for their place in a changing world.

"I was in the earthquake zone three days after the disaster in May 2008," says director Qi Zhao. "It was chaotic, but I felt that something larger than just a story of rescue was lying there. I'm privileged to be allowed to follow my characters over three years to explore something that really touches me. I'm grateful that Peng, Li and Hong trusted me, allowing me access into their lives and gradually sharing their emotions.

"Through Fallen City I want to explore how a generation was thrust into a relentless pursuit of economic growth and uprooted from its past. The earthquake is something very concrete in the film. But it's also a metaphor for the important lesson that material comforts are not enough. Making the film changed me more than I could have imagined. Seeing the eternal feelings of family love the characters expressed, my wife and I decided to have a baby. Our son is now 5 years old."

Fallen City is a production of Qi Films in association with NHK.

About the Filmmaker:

Qi Zhao, Director/Producer

Qi Zhao is a documentary filmmaker based in Beijing. He worked as a director and producer for the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV for 14 years, covering social, political and environmental issues. He was producer for Lixin Fan's Last Train Home, which looked at the world's largest annual human migration as millions of Chinese flock from the cities to their rural homes by train every Lunar New Year. The film, which premiered on POV in 2011, won the 2012 News and Documentary Emmy® Award for Best Documentary.

Credits:
Director: Qi Zhao
Executive Producers: Peter Wintonick, Michelle Ho, Lixin Fan
Producer: Qi Zhao
Cinematographers: Xiaoyu Niu, Shaoguang Sun
Editors: Matthieu Laclau, Peicong Meng, Xiaoyu Niu
Original Music: Uno Helmersson
Running time: 56:46

POV Series Credits:
Executive Producer: Simon Kilmurry
Co-Executive Producer: ynthia López
Vice President, Programming and Production: Chris White
Associate Producer: Nicole Tsien
Production Coordinator: Nikki Heyman

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Independent Television Service (ITVS) funds, presents and promotes award-winning documentaries on public television, innovative new media projects on the Web, and the Emmy® Award-winning weekly series Independent Lens on Monday nights at 10 p.m. on PBS. Mandated by Congress in 1988 and funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, ITVS has brought thousands independently produced programs to American audiences. For more, visit itvs.org.

The Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to presenting stories that convey the richness and diversity of Asian American experiences to the broadest audience possible. We do this by funding, producing, distributing and exhibiting works in film, television and digital media. For more information, visit www.caamedia.org.

Produced by American Documentary, Inc. and now in its 27th season on PBS, the award-winning POV is the longest-running showcase on American television to feature the work of today's best independent documentary filmmakers. POV has brought more than 365 acclaimed documentaries to millions nationwide. POV films have won every major film and broadcasting award, including 32 Emmys, 17 George Foster Peabody Awards, 10 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, three Academy Awards® and the Prix Italia. Since 1988, POV has pioneered the art of presentation and outreach using independent nonfiction media to build new communities in conversation about today's most pressing social issues. Visit www.pbs.org/pov.

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POV's Community Engagement and Education team works with educators, community organizations and PBS stations to present more than 650 free screenings every year. In addition, we distribute free discussion guides and standards-aligned lesson plans for each of our films. With our community partners, we inspire dialogue around the most important social issues of our time.

POV Digital (www.pbs.org/pov/)
Since 1994, POV Digital has driven new storytelling initiatives and interactive production for POV. The department created PBS's first program website and its first web-based documentary (POV's Borders) and has won major awards, including a Webby Award (and six nominations) and an Online News Association Award. POV Digital continues to explore the future of independent nonfiction media through its digital productions and the POV Hackathon lab, where media makers and technologists collaborate to reinvent storytelling forms. @povdocs on Twitter.

American Documentary, Inc. (www.amdoc.org/)
American Documentary, Inc. (AmDoc) is a multimedia company dedicated to creating, identifying and presenting contemporary stories that express opinions and perspectives rarely featured in mainstream media outlets. AmDoc is a catalyst for public culture, developing collaborative strategic engagement activities around socially relevant content on television, online and in community settings. These activities are designed to trigger action, from dialogue and feedback to educational opportunities and community participation.

Major funding for POV is provided by PBS, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Bertha Foundation, Wyncote Foundation, The Educational Foundation of America, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, and public television viewers. POV is presented by a consortium of public television stations, including KQED San Francisco, WGBH Boston and THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG.

Contacts:
POV Communications: Communications@pov.org, 212-989-7425
Cathy Fisher, cfisher@pov.org; Amanda Nguyen, anguyen@pov.org

POV online pressroom: www.pbs.org/pov/pressroom

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