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Show me a story-Young film makers spin yarns
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Deadly-dull once was the word for traditional Chinese documentaries, but the Discovery Channel is injecting a new spirit of entertaining story telling in a country full of great yarns.

The 30-minute works of six young documentary film makers are being aired on the Discovery Channel; the next showings are this Friday and next Friday. Screening on local TV stations is expected early in the year.

Their film projects were selected, funded and assisted by the Discovery Channel, which gave expert advice to the young directors. The pros from Discovery emphasize is on fun story telling and "international" visual language that viewers everywhere can understand.

Discovery's fourth annual First Time Film Maker China project this year sought "Portraits of China" about ordinary yet extraordinary individuals.

The past nine months have been spent in filming and production of "The People's Dumpling," "Go Buddha Boys!" "Bugged," "Green Greatwall of China," "Adili Skywalker" and "Photographing Shenzhen."

"All provide an insight into dynamic modern China," said Chang Fang, vice president of Discovery Networks Asia and general manager for China.

Two have already been aired: "People's Dumpling" about "dumpling king" Chen Shirong, a famous chef in Jiangsu Province near Shanghai; and "Go Buddha Boys!" about Buddhist monk soccer players and their nun cheerleading team.

Last Friday, the channel aired "Bugged" about an insect-obsessed Beijing photographer and his friends and "Great Greenwall of China" about Hexi Village in Hebei Province outside Beijing. Hexi is thronged with tourists getting away from the capital and is fighting to protect its environment. Even a pet "green dog" has been trained to retrieve discarded plastic bottles for recycling.

Next Friday, viewers can watch "Adili Skywalker" about Xinjiang acrobat and tightrope walker Adili Wuxiuer who crosses a rope stretched 662 meters across cliff at a height of 687 meters.

They also can see "Photographing Shenzhen" about photographer Yu Haibo who has recorded years of dramatic changes in Shenzhen, China's first daring economic zone.

Chang from Discovery Networks Asia said the "Green Greatwall of China" impressed the pros for the keen eye of director Yu Qiong. She takes a look at environmental protection, a huge national topic, through the "greening" of the tourist village of Hexi. The quaint hamlet in the mountains wants to avoid the damage and even destruction caused by rampant tourism.

"The residents there, many of them farmers, have far-sighted wisdom," said Yu. "To my surprise, they show a strong awareness of sustainable development."

Mountain patrol volunteers clean up the environment and warn tourists not to litter or damage the area. The village has installed energy-saving street lights and adopted garbage sorting and collection. Even the "green" canine collects bottles.

"Even if I prepared for a long time before shooting, there were always surprises in store," Yu recalls. "I had to deal with some unforeseen circumstances such as the weather and delayed interviews."

She said working with Discovery's experienced foreign producers was rewarding. "They passed on to me some new concepts about making documentaries, and advised me to make a full script before shooting," Yu adds.

Jiang Ying, 27-year-old director of "Go Buddha Boys!," said the experience will broaden her career. "I have learned many directing and production tips, from budget control to setting the production schedule," she said. "The veterans from Discovery never imposed their ideas on us."

Ever since 2003, more than 20 young Chinese directors have been discovered through Discovery's China project; their 24 films have built an awareness of what China has to offer in terms of creativity and stories.

Ten of them have been recognized at major international TV and film awards, including the Asia Television Awards' "Best Documentary" and "Best Director" in the short film category.

Next year Discovery plans 2008 Olympics-themed works, including a look into the Bird's Nest, the signature building for the Beijing Games, as well as China's "secret" athletic training programs, Chang said.

"These first-time directors, who have become a significant new force in China's documentary industry, will have more opportunities to collaborate with us," he said.

(Shanghai Daily December 19, 2007)

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