Gu Tao: Inside and outside the forest

By Tom Cunliffe
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, May 18, 2015
Adjust font size:

Gu Tao's documentary "The Last Moose of Aoluguya" (2013) opened the Fifth Chinese Visual Festival in London this year. Gu is an award-winning documentary filmmaker who focuses on ethnic minorities and their precarious place in a changing modern China. I sat down and had a chat with him at King's College London, where much of the festival is taking place.

Director Gu Tao speaks to the audience at the opening ceremony of Chinese Visual Festival in London on May 9, 2015. [Photo/]


Gu came across as something of an adventurer in his approach to life, and his approach to making documentaries, which makes it easy to see how he spent around eight years living with and documenting the struggling Ewenki ethnic minority, which three of his documentaries focus on.

The Ewenki people migrated from Siberia centuries ago and shared their lives with their moose in the forests of the Great Xingan Mountains in northern China for many years. They are the only people who still practice moose husbandry in China. However, in 2003 they were relocated to the bottom of the mountain where both their lives, and that of their moose, changed forever.

Gu was very generous with his time, and it was clear that what is important to him is to objectively document the contemporary age to reveal the way modernization is causing the disappearance and loss of many things held dear, especially in communities on the periphery, which his documentaries powerfully visualize.

Why did he decide to focus on the Ewenki ethnic minority? Gu's father is a photographer and writer who documented the Ewenki people through photos and words 30 years ago. His father often took him along to develop the pictures he'd taken, which left a strong impression on the young Gu."I saw an environment and way of life very different from our own. In the forest they would hunt, raise moose for farming and other things which were all part of their traditional way of life."

After finishing his art studies, Gu decided that working in a monotonous job in the city wasn't for him. So around 10 years ago, he set off to Aoluguya, the area where the Ewenki minority live. Upon his arrival he discovered that the Ewenki people's way of life had completely changed since the days his father was there. The Ewenki had lived and raised their moose in the dense poplar forests in the Xingan Mountains for many years. Swift change came in 2003, when hunting was banned, their guns were confiscated, and they were asked to move out of the forest to the bottom of the mountain, where the government constructed houses for them to live. The moose had nothing to eat there, since they like roaming the forest looking for moss to eat which only grows in the mountain forests. "The people who raised moose were in a similar predicament and had nothing to do once they were relocated. Seeing the loss and death of their moose was very difficult for them. I was there, capturing this situation on film and this was the start of my job making documentaries," Gu explained.

This seems to have come about almost by chance. "I actually never went to Aoluguya to work on a documentary or as a documentary director. If this was the case, I could never have stayed there for eight years. While I was there, I directly felt the massive change that was happening in their lives. I went with them to search for moose to raise, in the winter to dig ice for water to drink, in the summer to pick food for the moose, and was with them when they moved their homes. I would only occasionally film these things however," Gu added. He wasn't filming every day and this laid back approach enabled him to really be able to experience life with them and to show their way of life more authentically.

Follow on Twitter and Facebook to join the conversation.
1   2   Next  

Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comment(s)

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Enter the words you see:   
    Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from