Chinese documaker Wang Bing, whose first fiction film, “The Ditch,” is Venice’s traditional surprise addition to its slate, was on the Lido Tuesday talking about plans to focus his camera on contempo rural China.
Wang’s nine-hour epic “West of the Tracks,” about industrial China, and “Fengming: A Chinese Memoir,” have built him an enviable reputation as a documentarian.
Now he has plans for three rural studies, he said.
“I was born and grew up in the countryside. All my friends and relatives have lived there all their lives. But up to now I’ve never had time to make a film in a rural context,” Wang told Variety. “Each of my films is a piece in a mosaic that will build up a whole picture.”
Screening Monday on the Lido, “Ditch,” a harrowing chronicle of human suffering provoked by China’s “anti-rightist” campaign, is one of the most popular competition titles among Italian critics. It’s being sold by Wild Bunch.
“Ditch” is set in 1960 in Jiabiangu Re-education Camp, a labor camp for dissidents in the Gobi Desert.
Even though it’s fiction, it’s based on four years of research during which time Wang met around 100 survivors. One, Li Xiangngnian, makes a special appearance as an old man collecting seeds.
“Everything in the film really happened at the camp,” Wang said. “Nothing has been made up or added.”
In making it, Wang has put himself on the line.
China’s film authorities would “definitely not” have granted a permit for a “Ditch” shoot, Wang said.
So the film was shot in secret near the Mongolian border, in constant fear of being discovered and halted.
“Every day, some crew members were told one thing, others something else,” said Wang.
Roughly every other day, Wang and a driver drove 150 miles to deposit the daily rushes in a secret hiding place.
“Ditch’s” French and Belgian producers didn’t visit the set. “The presence of non-Chinese people would have attracted too much attention,” Wang said.
Wang doubts that “Ditch” will be shown in China but it has sparked a lot of Internet interest.
“It would be unnatural not to fear reprisal but I couldn’t say how likely it is,” Wang said. “I never talk about my films in China. The Internet chat will probably evaporate very soon.”
However, Wang’s “West of the Tracks” was seen in China — thanks to piracy. Some 500,000 illegally copied DVD copies hit the streets.