Blogs/ A dead Yangtze River

By Interview: Xiao Tong' & Author: Pan Junwen, published on 01 May 2019

The documentary "A Yangtze Landscape" wants to metaphorize the current Chinese chaos by shooting the Yangtze River, known as the Mother River.
 Xu Xin said, "I hope to use documentaries to record and express my own thoughts. If fictional films have the functions of dreaming and entertainment, documentaries should bear more of historical records and reflections, as well as social criticism."


 Xu Xin in the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival.



Interview: Xiao Tong   Author: Pan Junwen


The documentary "A Yangtze Landscape" wants to metaphorize the current Chinese chaos by shooting the Yangtze River, known as the Mother River. During the filming process, the camera was mounted on the ship, using the Yangtze River as a huge movie moving track, using a large number of long lenses and fixed lenses to scan the scenery along the Yangtze River. From the Yangtze River to Shanghai, starting from Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhan, the Three Gorges Dam, Chongqing has been photographed to the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, Yibin, and then from Yibin Land Road to the source of the Yangtze River Qinghai, Tibet, shooting tens of thousands of kilometers.Throughout the river, Xu Xin from the ship to the river, always observe in a simple, calm posture.

The river is flowing eastward, and the cargo ship is screaming. The film begins with a beautiful Shanghai night scene. When people were immersed in the bright and modern world on both sides of the strait, a row of subtitles broke the illusion of prosperity: at the end of 2014, there was a serious stampede in Shanghai, causing many deaths; in 2013, thousands of dead pigs were salvaged in the Huangpu River. Then, the lens went up against the flow, and a real picture of cruel China began to unfold.

◇ documentary "A Yangtze Landscaper" stills


In Tongling, photograph the wanderers in front of the ruins of the demolished houses; in Datong Ancient Town, photograph the daily life of a family of mentally ill patients; in Wuhan, photograph a person who was disabled by the hands of the Yangtze River dredger and a 17-time visit to Beijing The old man; in Jingzhou, filmed a wandering mentally ill person; in Chongqing, photographed the wanderers under the bridge in the Yangtze River; in Tibet, photographed devout Buddhist believers.When you look at the complete film, you will find that this is a dead Yangtze River.

Corresponding to the desperation of the Yangtze River, the film's lens is perfect, full of poetry and strength, it seems that every picture is a photographic work. Even those scenes that should have been dirty and messy have a solemn and heavy feeling under the black and white lens. In addition, in terms of sound processing, the film combines the noise of the ship, the sound of water, the sound of the wind and the different background sounds on both sides of the Yangtze River. It not only shows the embarrassment of this era, but also looks so clean and pure. A magical reality atmosphere. It is foreseeable that this documentary will be difficult to meet with everyone on the big screen, so it will be a shame to lose the best display of the picture and sound.

◇ documentary "A Yangtze Landscaper" stills

Xu Xin, who has been engaged in independent documentary production for a long time, has already seen it. To be a documentary can not be used for the purpose of making money, can only be seen as the realization of personal value. Xu Xin said, "I hope to use documentaries to record and express my own thoughts. If fictional films have the functions of dreaming and entertainment, documentaries should bear more of historical records and reflections, as well as social criticism."

◇ documentary "A Yangtze Langscape" poster

It is a dead Yangtze River 

Xiao Tong : First talk about the creative process of this film?

Xu Xin : At the end of 2011, my friend Yang Chao was preparing to shoot a drama film "Yangtze River", when he invited some artists, including me. So I went to do this documentary alone. Their crew rented boats along the river twice to look at the scene. I followed them all the way to shoot.

I mainly took the Yangtze River from Shanghai to Yibin, and then I thought about the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and made the simple explanation of the source of the Yangtze River. However, when Yang Chao’s "Yangtze River Map" has not yet photographed Yibin, the funds have been used up. In fact, they originally planned to go to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Because there is no money, the section of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau was taken by me alone.

After the filming in 2012, I have already started editing. At that time, the "Yangtze River Map" was delayed because of various financial problems. I was a very good friend with him. He invited me to create a documentary. I felt that his film had not come out yet. My film was not very good. In 2016, when I heard Yang Chao’s film entered the Berlin Film Festival, I also won the Silver Bear Award. My film came out.

◇The movie "Cross Curent" stills

When Yang Chao invited me to board the ship and filmed a documentary, my idea was to continue the style of my previous works. Like Karamay, I was prepared to do some interviews with artists or local cultural names along the Yangtze River. But as I took a boat view, along the way, when I saw these scenes, I overturned the original shooting plan.

Xiao Tong : Your background and background of learning have a great impact on the creation of this film.

Xu Xin : I am from Taizhou, Jiangsu Province. I grew up on the Yangtze River from an early age. I have witnessed some changes around the Yangtze River and have deep feelings for people on the Yangtze River and the Yangtze River. In the official propaganda, the Yangtze River is a symbol of China's mother river. So through this film, I hope to use this Yangtze River as a metaphor. It is a dead Yangtze River.

I first studied ink painting and Chinese painting. After I went to college, I was exposed to a lot of modern art. These backgrounds have had a great impact on my future creation. I prefer minimalism.So this film I want to make the simplest composition, the simplest color, to the extreme. None of the lenses in the film are sporty, and all the lenses make it a stable lens. The machine does not move except on the river. Just like traditional Chinese painting, it is a long scroll, I like holding a scanner, scan down along the river. In the past, this movie actually interspersed with some previous images. Later, I felt that these images were a bit awkward in the end. Finally, I removed them all and explained them in the form of subtitles.


Xiao Tong : During the filming process, the feeling that the Yangtze River gives you is shocking, or is it getting more and more distressed?

Xu Xin : There was no shock when shooting, because I had a deep understanding of the Yangtze River before the shooting, including the impact of the Three Gorges Dam on water quality and the impact of the Three Gorges demolition. Only this time is to take it to the audience, because I always think that the documentary is subjective, but these lenses can confirm my previous views.

◇ documentary "A Yangzte Landscape" stills

In my opinion, my movie is all political.

Xiao Tong : What is the relationship with the subject at the time of shooting?

Xu Xin : The way most subjects are taken is to take pictures with my own machine. This kind of shooting is the most realistic state. Explain to them during the shooting, so far no rejection. The man who counted the money under the bridge, he cooked a pot of things and told me to eat, there was no interference with him, and there was no arrangement.

However, there are 2 or 3 scenes in the film, which is the performance part of the drama "Yangtze River". I am just a bystander, interspersed with those lenses in my lens, hoping to create a magical effect in this way. For example, in Jiangxinzhou, a girl is crying on the riverside, that is a scene in the drama, but behind that scene, a wanderer eats food in the trash can. That period is a realistic scene. Many viewers have already divided Qing is the reality, which is the plot. If there is an audience, which is an actor and which is a reality, I will tell him clearly, but if the audience does not ask me and judge it wrong, I feel that there is no problem. I am a long scroll of paintings, no matter the characters in the plot, or the characters in reality, all play a role in the painting.


Xiao Tong : The reality of this film is very cruel. Do the characters in the drama have a deeper understanding?

Xu Xin : This movie is not a story-telling movie. There is no story. More is to express the director's emotion through the picture and voice. Some of the characters in the film, I already know his family and situation, but I didn't emphasize this in the movie, and I don't need to explain his future. I just use this character, this scene, this space to express my emotions and then pass this expression to the audience.

◇ documentary "A Yangtze landscape" stills

Xiao Tong : Has there been any profound impact during the filming process?

Xu Xin : Many times I can't communicate with the subjects, I have to communicate with their families. For example, the one who injured the finger, I have communicated with his family. They even gave me some materials for petitioning, but I can't help him with these things. I can only present it and leave his real name and address. Above, I can only do this.

There is also an old man showing the money, he tried to communicate with me, but he couldn’t understand what he said, because he was not a local, his mouth was not clear, and even the locals could not understand. I really want to communicate with them, but there is no way.


Xiao Tong : Now I am studying in Japan and can see many movies that I can't see in China. This film is very beautiful, especially photography. You, as a Chinese person, why should people in Western countries overseas Chinese to show these aspects? I also want to show some real things, but I can't do it, it's too cruel. The whole film looks very annoying to China, long shots, and it looks very depressed.

Xu Xin : Just now a message, "Wolf Wolf 2" has been selected to Oscar. In my opinion, my movie is all political. In some viewers, it is all scenery. I feel that there is room for choice for overseas audiences. He can also watch "War Wolf 2" or "A Yangtze Landscape".

 documentary "A Yangtze Landscape" stills

Do not make a documentary for the purpose of making money

Xiao Tong : In the post-shadow exchange, the audience did not understand and raised objections. Do you want to hear such feedback from the audience?

Xu Xin : I think the audience did not understand and even raised objections, including the old man saying that you are not political, it is all scenery, I think there is no problem. Maybe he did not understand, I explained to him, told him my intentions, very good. Because this film is different from the type of the previous event, it is normal and understandable for the audience to have such a reflection.


Xiao Tong : How do you feel about this Yamagata film festival? Don't think anything about its selection criteria?

Xu Xin : I don't have any idea about the selection criteria, but from my personal point of view, putting my film on the new wave is a bit uncomfortable. Because when he signed up, there was no option, such as which unit you want to attend, and other international film festivals have options. It has no options. I only choose the competition unit. I am not participating in the non-competition unit. I received an email after signing up and said that I am going to arrange my video to the new wave unit. I think about it, I will go to the new wave. There is a bit of discomfort in my heart, but it is good to see it for everyone.

The film festival has its own way of operation and principles. I just said from a personal point of view that this film is a bit regrettable, just into the new wave unit. Because this Yamagata film festival has a great influence in China, when Wu Wenguang brought the Yamagata to China, Ogawa’s influence on the Chinese documentary circle was also great. Therefore, the Chinese documentary film director is very hopeful to participate in the Yamagata.

◇The Lushan-shaped international documentary film festival was held.

Xiao Tong : What is the life of an independent documentary in such a difficult situation?

Xu Xin : It is not difficult for me. I took a documentary and originally invested in the company, but now I am expelled from the company because the official is paying attention to me. The cost of filming a documentary itself is not high, but the cost of time is high. Some friends have funded, such as Yang Chao's crew to provide us with convenience, and later also got the help of many friends.

Life still has to find a way. Documentary can't be used for making money. It can only be seen as the realization of personal value and the expression of self. You are willing to do it, you are not willing to do it, no one is forcing you to do it. Of course, some people say that movies are commodities, documentaries can become better products, that is, they have a return, and they can be a benign cycle, but documentaries are not a commodity. The documentary is the older and more valuable, and can be used when studying Chinese society in the future.


Published On 9 Dec 2017

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