Mov­ing Mu­se­ums

——Ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with Ren Chon­grong, ngrong, pro­ducer and project su­per­vi­sor of the he doc­u­men­tary The Slow Train Home

China Pictorial (English) - - CULTURE -

CP: What were the most im­pres­sive sto­ries you en­coun­tered while shoot­ing the doc­u­men­tary?

Ren Chon­grong: The doc­u­men­tary is built around a se­ries of travel sto­ries, so many in­ter­est­ing things hap­pened dur­ing shoot­ing.

In the first episode, the Shang­hai-based on­line writer Qi Dong tracked down a DF1 (Dongfeng1), the ear­li­est diesel lo­co­mo­tive in China, still run­ning along the foot of the Daliang Moun­tains. It has been cruis­ing be­tween Chengdu and Kun­ming for more than 30 years, long af­ter most of its peers have re­tired.

When the train reached 60 kilo­me­ters per hour, it seemed to whisk back in time. I was very im­pressed by this scene.

There is a hi­lar­i­ous scene at the be­gin­ning of the first t episode in which Qi Dong helps lo­cals load cat­tle, sheep and dogs on a train so that farm­ers can sell them in town. n.

For the peo­ple who ride them most fre­quently, the green trains are not about nos­tal­gia—they are the most con­ve­nient and cheap­est method of trans­porta­tion. Th­ese trains meet their needs at an af­ford­able price. This dy­namic was very touch­ing to me.

CP: How does one go about shoot­ing a good doc­u­men­tary?

Ren: In my opin­ion, the key to shoot­ing a good doc­u­men­tary is not to fo­cus on skills and tech­niques, but to seek to touch hearts.

The things that most fre­quently touch peo­ple’s hearts are found in ev­ery­day life. Many Chi­nese doc­u­men­tary mak­ers have fo­cused their lens on sto­ries of or­di­nary in­di­vid­u­als, which col­lec­tively weave the most vivid im­age of Chi­nese so­ci­ety.

In re­cent years, my fo­cus has shifted from grand themes re­lated to grand his­tory and cul­ture as seen in The palace mu­seum and China to the rich and in­ter­est­ing de­tails from the lives of or­di­nary peo­ple.

Cus­tom-made for life , a five-episode doc­u­men­tary that I helmed in 2016, fo­cused on young Chi­nese peo­ple who pur­sue dis­tinct life­styles and fash­ion.

We are also con­cerned about the lives of or­di­nary peo­ple and their mem­o­ries and feel­ings about tra­di­tional cul­ture in such a fast-de­vel­op­ing era. Sto­ries of or­di­nary peo­ple in the con­text of a great era are the most touch­ing and at­trac­tive. Three of my fa­vorites in this doc­u­men­tary are kids tak­ing the train to school, or­ange ven­dors and a bride from the Yi eth­nic group tak­ing the train home.

CP: What is the sig­nif­i­cance of doc­u­men­taries to China?

Ren: In 2000, The true story , a spin-off of Ori­en­tal Hori­zon , a pop­u­lar pro­gram of CCTV where I worked, adopted the slo­gan “record­ing the chang­ing im­ages of China,” which I would cite to an­swer the ques­tion.

The slow-speed green trains are now like mov­ing mu­se­ums. We cap­tured im­ages of the train trav­el­ing tire­lessly through the deserts of south­ern Xin­jiang as well as the snow-car­peted plains of north­east­ern China.

The words of a lo­cal woman in the fifth episode are quite true and touch­ing: “Thanks to the train, I can sell oranges in town so I don’t have to work away from home and leave my chil­dren be­hind.”

The slow green trains carry not only old mem­o­ries and dis­tant dreams, but also the hopes and liveli­hoods of the lo­cal peo­ple. That is the real China we see in the doc­u­men­tary.

Ren Chon­grong, pro­ducer and project su­per­vi­sor of the doc­u­men­taryThe Slow Train Home. by Chen Jian

In the first episode of the doc­u­men­tary, Shang­hai-based on­line writer Qi Dong (left) helps lo­cals load cat­tle, sheep and dogs onto a train so that farm­ers can sell them in town.

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