Survivors of a Deadly Earthquake in China Face Trauma and Uncertainty in POV’s ‘Fallen City, Monday, July 28, 2014 on PBS.
New City Rises Where 2008 Quake Wiped Out Town of 20,000; Residents Must Overcome Legacy of Loss, Grief and Fear. A Co-production of ITVS International. A Co-presentation with the Center for Asian American Media.
“A quiet paean to human resourcefulness and resilience in the worst of circumstances.”-Neil Young, The Hollywood Reporter.
In today’s go-go China, an old city completely destroyed by a devastating earthquake can be rebuilt — boasting new and improved civic amenities — in an astoundingly quick two years. But, as Fallen City reveals, the journey from the ruined old city of Beichuan to the new Beichuan nearby is long and heartbreaking for the survivors. Three families struggle with loss — most strikingly the loss of children and grandchildren — and feelings of loneliness, fear and dislocation that no amount of propaganda can disguise. First-time director Qi Zhao offers an intimate look at a country torn between tradition and modernity.
Qi Zhao’s Fallen City, an Official Selection of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, has its national broadcast premiere on Monday, July 28, 2014 at 10 p.m. on PBS’s POV (Point of View) documentary series. (Check local listings.) It will stream on POV’s website, www.pbs.org/pov/fallencity/, from July 29-Aug. 28.
Fallen City is the haunting story of the survivors of the 2008 quake in the Sichuan province, whose grief over the past and anxiety about the future cannot be resolved in bricks and mortar or erased by cheerful government propaganda about “the new Beichuan.”
Filmed over three years, the film follows three stories. Hong Shihao, 14 years old, is coping with his father’s death. He spends a lot of time among the old town’s ruins, has increasingly strained relations with his mother, and sees his grades dropping. Under constant pressure about his studies, Hong runs away, putting his chances of going to university in jeopardy.
Mr. and Mrs. Peng, in their 30s, lost their only daughter when her school collapsed. She was 11 years old. Mr. Peng stays in a house overlooking the disaster site, tending to the family farm, while his wife flees town to recover. Other couples in similar circumstances decided quickly to have children again, but Mr. Peng can’t get over the feeling it would be a betrayal of his daughter’s memory. When his wife returns, they go on to rebuild their world of two and discover a stronger love.
Li Guihua, a divorced woman in her 50s, lost nearly her entire family—her daughter, granddaughter and three sisters. As she struggles to care for her paralyzed mother, who no longer recognizes her, she takes on the added burden of helping to run temporary housing for the survivors and overseeing their transition to the new town. It is a role that puts her squarely in the middle of growing allegations of corruption and favoritism in the process.
As they continue to re-establish their lives, Peng, Li and Hong speak for a generation left to reconstruct its own hopes and values. “I was in the earthquake zone three days after the disaster in May 2008,” says director Qi Zhao. “It was chaotic, but I felt that something larger than just a story of rescue was lying there. Through Fallen City I want to explore how a generation was thrust into a relentless pursuit of economic growth and uprooted from its past. The earthquake is also a metaphor for the important lesson that material comforts are not enough.
“Making the film changed me more than I could have imagined. Seeing the eternal feelings of family love the characters expressed, my wife and I decided to have a baby. Our son is now 5 years old.”
Fallen City is a production of Qi Films in association with NHK.
Qi Zhao, director and producer, is a documentary filmmaker based in Beijing. He worked as a director and producer for the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV for 14 years, covering social, political and environmental issues. He was producer for Lixin Fan’s Last Train Home, which looked at the world’s largest annual human migration as millions of Chinese flock from the cities to their rural homes by train every Lunar New Year. The film, which premiered on POV in 2011, won the 2012 News and Documentary Emmy® Award for Best Documentary.
Produced by American Documentary, Inc. and now in its 27th season on PBS, the award-winning POV is the longest-running showcase on American television to feature the work of today’s best independent documentary filmmakers. POV has brought more than 365 acclaimed documentaries to millions nationwide. POV films have won every major film and broadcasting award, including 32 Emmys, 17 George Foster Peabody Awards, 10 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, three Academy Awards® and the Prix Italia.
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