SUNDANCE: Directors Tease 'Gideon's Army,' 'Fallen City,' 'Newlyweeds,' 'Soldate Jeannette' And 'Lasting'
Fallen City by Director Zhao Qi [World Documentary Competition]
The 2008 earthquake in China utterly destroyed not only physical structures but also human lives in mountain cities like Beichuan. Through the gracefully interwoven stories of three survivors from the town, Fallen City documents the struggle to rebuild amidst ruin. Meanwhile, down the road, a new Beichuan is rising. The Chinese government’s solution to the devastation of the earthquake is a completely new town where the survivors can live a better, more prosperous life in spacious flats among manicured landscapes.
As the physical structures appear at a breakneck pace, we see that people’s hearts cannot be repaired as easily. First-time director Zhao Qi gives us an intimate look at Chinese life by focusing on the people’s unshakable familial love and commitment—values not seen as often in the West. Through surprising turns, haunting visuals, and the personal and political drive to forget, Fallen City becomes a testimony to the universal human will to persevere and remember. [Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival]
Responses by Director Zhao Qi
The genesis of Fallen City and moments of neglect:
I came back to China from a very encouraging 2010 IDFA pitch only to learn that one of the protagonists, Ms. Li Guihua, had been jailed for fraud. She'd illegally applied for more flats in the new city of Beichuan. I was floored. I didn't see it coming and it would mean a radical change of her story in the film. And shooting in a Chinese prison? How would I do that? Especially since my subject was a convict whose case undermined all the start-afresh joy and rhetoric around the people's relocation to the new Beichuan. But somehow, as I delved deep into two years of footage for Li Guihua, I found her story. I also convinced a contact affiliated with the Justice System for permission to shoot inside the prison.
The great irony is that, as Fallen City turned out to be a plea to cherish family amidst China's rush for progress, I had neglected my own family in the journey. I missed three spring festivals in a row with my family. And I missed many moments with my son, who was born one year after I began filming. Once, after I'd locked myself away in the editing suite for a whole week, my wife called in and asked what was my purpose in making the film. It was then that I realized, if I had a truth (message? belief?) to give to the world, I must first practice it.