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Cultural treasure emerges from backwaters
From:chinadaily  |  2021-05-11 11:02

Movie director Jia Zhangke from Shanxi province. CHINA DAILY

In 1998, Jia Zhangke put his hometown of Fenyang in Shanxi province on the cinematic map when it featured as the backdrop for his film Xiao Wu, the one that placed him under the spotlight.

Known as The Pickpocket overseas, the film was recognized at the 48th Berlin International Film Festival and launched the career of Jia, one of the key members of the so-called sixth generation of Chinese film directors.

After the breakthrough, Shanxi was prominently featured in the films of directors from the province, who said it was their way of "repaying" their home.

Jia, in particular, maintained his close association with Shanxi. His subsequent films, Platform and Still Life in the 2000s and A Touch of Sin, Mountains May Depart and Ash is Purest White in the past decade, recorded the changes in Chinese society and both everyday and extraordinary images of Shanxi people.

In his films, Jia employs Shanxi performers who speak in dialects and tell "Shanxi stories" in natural settings of the province.

Some film critics have said that Jia's hometown constitutes a character itself in his movies.

With the support of Jia, the Pingyao Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon International Film Festival was founded in Pingyao, Shanxi, in 2017.

Jia has played down the claim that the film festival is a nostalgic small event. To hold an international film festival in Pingyao, a fourth-tier town, is to promote the flow of cultural resources from the top of society to the bottom, he said.

The province needs such projects to make itself known to the world, and Shanxi's rich cultural resources need to be marketed through them.

"The film festival is a resource with huge amounts of information, and its long-term benefits will be gradually realized in the future," Jia said.

As the film festival has been held four times already, the event has established a brand that has helped it mature due to ongoing input from industry figures.

The Pingyao county government will host the fifth version of the event, which will help secure the long-term viability of the festival.

Wu Xiaohua, Party chief of Pingyao, said the festival has become an introductory "business card" not only for the city but also Shanxi.

Cultural village

Four years ago, the Seed Cinema opened in Jiajiazhuang, Jia's home village.

As an important part of the Jia Zhangke Arts Center, the director hopes it can take root and bloom in order for a cinema culture to prosper in Jiajiazhuang.

Apart from the arts center, Jiajiazhuang now has Fenzhou Folk-Custom Park, the Ma Feng Memorial Hall, the Industrial Cultural Innovation Park and Jiajie Street. The village has developed into a model for cultural tourism.

Jiajie Street receives about 2 million visitors a year, bringing tangible benefits to local farmers.

Xing Wanli, Party chief of the village, said Jia was invited to promote local Lyuliang culture in 2016.

At the time, Lyuliang literature gained wider recognition, due to Jia's efforts. His team had unearthed nearly 500 writers from Lyuliang, a mountainous region known for its harsh environment.

In 2019, the inaugural Lyuliang Literature Season was held in Jiajiazhuang, the first major literary event staged in a Chinese village.

Jia said Shanxi literature is not only important to China, but also the rest of the world. He hopes a more favorable environment can be created for literature lovers in Shanxi to thrive and provide a path for national and world-class writers to visit the province.

Jia hopes more people from Shanxi accept the challenge to promote their province as a cultural treasure.