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December 6, 2009

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Director laments impact of changes on heritage

AWARD-WINNING film director Jia Zhangke recently attended an Expo forum about the construction of Jiading New City in Shanghai.

A graduate of Beijing Film Academy, Jia started his career as an "underground" cinema director, and his films started to get attention on the international circuit.

After winning the 2006 Golden Lion at the 63rd Venice International Film Festival for "Still Life," he achieved greater recognition and became one of the leading film directors in China.

Jia last year accepted the Expo Bureau's invitation to produce a documentary named "Shanghai Legend."

The film, telling the 100-year history of Shanghai, will be released next year during the Expo.

He revealed at the forum details of the filming and his understanding of city, culture and modernization.

Q: What have you tried to express in the documentary to be shown at the Expo?

A: Every change that urbanization makes during each step will bring destruction. I don't want to see a city built up at the cost of lost memories. There should be memories and historical things in the city, things that connect the old city, the future and young generations.

Q: As a person who grew up in the northwest of China, what was your first impression of Shanghai?

A: When I was a child, the impression that Shanghai gave me was all about material products - such as sugar and bicycles of well-known brands produced in Shanghai. At a time when the country was in short supply of food and commodities, Shanghai represented "industrialized, modernized and Westernized."

Q: What do you believe is the city culture of Shanghai?

A: Shanghai has been the most urbanized city in China since late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). So many important historical events took place in Shanghai during the last 100 years, and almost all the important persons from political, historical and artistic circles lived here, like Mao Zedong, Lu Xun, and so on.

Q: What is the main focus of your documentary?

A: During the past 100 years, wars and battles have caused deaths and family separations, leaving too much misery for people living here at that time. So I mainly focus on the separation and reunion of those old Shanghai residents.

Q: What kind of people did you interview in your planning?

A: We interviewed more than 100 old Shanghainese who are living in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Through all the decades, they suffered from natural disasters and political changes. Among them, there are sci-fi writers, people from business and political circles ... almost all corners of society.

Q: Did you discover anything common between these people of different backgrounds?

A: Yes. No matter what backgrounds they had or what political camp they had been in, the will of all these people was the same: to change the "weak" China that they lived in to a modernized China that was strong enough to be respected by other countries.

Q: What do you think is the essence of a city's modernization?

A: The current culture in China is only caring about the short-term benefits of the present. It ignores the heritage of history and the long-term influences that will shape the future. The World Expo shows the imagination we have for the future and I shot the film to bring back old memories. I think the combination of the three should shape a complete culture, and that is the essence of modernization.


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