Director’s lens focuses on lessons of history
Director Chen Maolin planned to stay in Beijing for around three weeks to supervise post-production of his latest feature-length film,
However, Chen — from Shandong province — was forced to leave merely five days after he arrived in the Chinese capital on June 7.
After reading the news that Xinfadi — the city’s largest wholesale market for agricultural and seafood products — was linked to a new cluster of COVID-19 cases, Chen quickly decided to purchase a train ticket to return to Qingdao.
Chen had lived in a neighborhood near the Xinfadi market for a period after he graduated as a literature major from Beijing Film Academy in 2012. “It is a sprawling market that is very densely populated, so I could imagine how serious the situation might become,” he says.
Now relying on the internet to remotely guide the Beijing film editors, Chen says he has kept a close eye on the COVID-19 news, and feels inspired by Beijing’s swift response and its all-out effort to combat the pandemic.
Unlike some of his fellow filmmakers, Chen — who was born in the 1990s — says he has long been interested in adapting real life events for screen productions which reflect the country’s development or look back at the history of the Communist Party of China.
is a perfect example. A highlighted project backed by Anhui provincial government to mark China’ s commitment to building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, the film turns the lens to the grassroots efforts of cadres to help locals escape poverty.
Starring veteran actor Zhang Guangbei, known for hits such as
and recounts a simple yet heartwarming story.
A stubborn villager, portrayed by Zhang, is reluctant to be relocated from his decrepit home on Dabie Mountain to a more convenient neighborhood near the foot of the mountain, as a part of local government’s effort to alleviate poverty. Thanks to a persistent and patient official, he is persuaded to move, unraveling a secret that has been hidden for more than seven decades.
The female lead is played by Yun Lan, a debutant actress who was selected from more than 20 candidates.
The movie was scheduled to start shooting in early February, but was postponed until April due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Hubei province.
As some areas in China had reported new coronavirus cases in April, Chen recalls he and his crew felt a bit nervous on their flight from Qingdao to Hefei, the capital of Anhui province.
“We shot the movie in Yuexi town in the city of Anqing, just one-and-a-half hour’s drive from Wuhan (the hardest-hit city in China),” recalls Chen.
Through interviews with local elderly villagers, Chen came to learn that they used to trek for an entire day, climbing over hills, to reach the nearest town. “Now the town has completely got rid of poverty. With a concrete road accessible to all households, it takes just around 20 minutes to drive there,” he notes.
Chen has earned a reputation in showbiz circles by serving as one of the creators behind the biographical TV series which chronicles Zhou, New China’s first premier who died in 1976.
Later, he accumulated more recognition through directing the hit TV series about the milestone battle during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1931-45), and the war romance film
set during the eve of the liberation of Beijing in 1949.
“I’ve learned a lot about how modern China has been shaped and the revolutionary history of the Communist Party through research for these flicks,” says Chen.
“So personally, filmmaking is a very interesting job that not only helps me to travel to a lot of places, but also enriches my knowledge.”
A field, bathed in laser light with a water-sprinkler system, provides a perfect playground for children in Nanbin Park, Wanzhou district, Chongqing, as evening falls on June 25. The park, after a general upgrade with revamped leisure areas, has become a haven for local residents to escape the intense summer heat. Online
Top: Veteran actor Zhang Guangbei (right) and actress Yun Lan star in the film Above: One scene features local villagers harvesting tea. Left: Director Chen Maolin (left) on the film set in Anhui province.