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June 18th, 2008
China Prep
Production Diary

The Countdown June 5, 2008

It is steamy hot weather. We arrive at the Bashu Middle School #2 at the outskirts of Chongqing, a city with 30 million inhabitants beautifully positioned in a lush hilly landscape where the Yangtze and Jialing rivers meet each other in Central China.

The school year is coming to an end. We have been filming the Senior 3 class, the last grade, since the beginning of the school year. Now there are only two days left before the start of the National College Entrance Exam. 10 million Chinese kids will be doing their utmost to get the highest score possible. A score that will determine not only which university they will attend, but also if they will be able to attend an university at all. There is only space for the best 40% of them.

We are afraid to disturb our main characters, Zhang Lie, Chen Zibo, Gao Mengjia and Peng Kun. Our presence could have a negative influence on their results, and after 12 years of hardship and the financial burden that their education was to their parents, we try to move as unnoticeably as possible through the corridors of the school. With our Caucasian features that is of course impossible, but after so many visits most kids seem to have grown accustomed to our presence and even the teachers have a smile after the worried looks we got last April.

The disturbances with the Olympic flame in Paris and London had great impact. The students wanted to know exactly what our position was in the debate. The teachers, especially the older ones that had experienced the Cultural Revolution, looked angrily at us and sometimes even fearful. Nobody spoke to us in the teachers’ room. It seemed that nothing good could come from being close to us. Waiting parents pushed newspapers with Olympic flame images in front of the camera lens, ruining our shots.

No anger this time, just nervously giggling students that were happy for some distraction. There were boards with photos of the earthquake area with lists of the money collected by each class and teacher to support the victims. The quake only happened 180 miles from Chongqing. Although nobody was hurt, the quake was felt and everybody had to evacuate the school and stay outside for the rest of the day. With all the aftershocks going on, even two weeks later over 1000 kids that live in the dormitories had to take their pillows and blankets and sleep on the athletics court all night. ~ Marije Meerman

Marije Meerman is the director of China Prep.

The film premieres on WIDE ANGLE on August 12th. Check your local listings for airtimes, and check here for more of Marije’s story and updates about the film.

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