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Filming struggling poor kids who wanna be star gymnasts

"THE Red Race" tells a powerful documentary tale about kindergarten-age children taking rigorous training in hopes of becoming star gymnasts. Xu Wei reports.

Shanghai documentary film maker Gan Chao's latest work "The Red Race" has been honored internationally for its exploration of little would-be gymnasts who are their parents' only hope for family success.

The 50-minute film shot in a Luwan District training center recently received a George Foster Peabody Award for excellence in radio and television broadcasting.

The film co-produced by Shanghai Media Group's Documentary Channel and Germany's NDR Fernsehen has won 10 international prizes. They include the Best Documentary award at Spain's Docupolis International Documentary Festival and the Honorable Jury Mention of America's Silverdocs Documentary Festival.

"The Red Race" will be shown next Monday at 10pm on the local Documentary Channel.

Using interviews and video only, without comment, the film follows several kindergarten-age kids in a gymnastic center that draws children from around China.

Many of the children come from poor areas and they bear their family's only hopes for a better future.

"When I took a gym class in 2007, I noticed these child gymnasts around me," recalls Gan, 31. "I was touched by their optimism, courage and perseverance in spite of tears and injuries. I immediately decided to make a film chronicling their childhood."

Gan says that during the five months of shooting, he was reminded of his own childhood that was spent in a small village in Sichuan Province, far from his parents in Shanghai.

The film does not contain narration or judgment; it just lets people tell their stories and lets pictures speak for themselves.

"I can relate to the children's solitude, confusion and anxiety," Gan says. "Everything they do is to make their parents happy and proud. The film is dedicated to the kids' crystal-pure hearts and childhood dreams."

The documentary is also an unsentimental exploration of the cost of striving for gold.

One of the powerful scenes depicts two little girls hanging from a bar, desperately holding on. Eventually one lets go and falls. The other hangs on in pain for another two minutes - she is praised by her coach.

Director Gan also follows a girl who consistently delivers the worst performance, but shows her talent in drawing. Eventually, she receives a gold medal for drawing in a competition. She wears the medal and quietly walks to a mirror outside the classroom, staring for a long time. The film implies she is inspired to excel in gymnastics.

The touching documentary uses smooth and creative storytelling and was edited by Dutch filmmaker Bas Roeterink who has lived for several years in China. The German coproducer contributed financially.

"This form of cooperation can inspire many local documentaries, which are usually short of funds, and offer a wider broadcasting platform," says Ying Qiming, director of the Documentary Channel.

The channel, which was launched in 2002, made a profit of about 40 million yuan (US$5.8 million) last year, a fairly good showing.

It has initiated projects, including DocuChina, to seek talented potential filmmakers and raise audience appreciation of documentaries.

"Today's documentaries depicting China's rise and tremendous social changes are compelling in the international arena," says Ying. "But many local filmmakers need to learn to tell stories with clear, straightforward 'international language'."

Besides "The Red Race," from April 21 to 24 at 10pm, five more films will be shown, including "Empty" (about amateur street musicians), "The Face" (about traditional masks and ideas about the face), "Circus School," "My Baby" (Shanghai mom with a disabled child) and "In the North" (Shanghai man travels to remote northern China).

"The Red Race"

April 20, 10pm


April 21, 10pm

"My Baby," "The Face"

April 22, 10pm

"In the North"

April 23, 10pm

"Circus School"

April 24, 10pm


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