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Discovering Real Images of Modern China
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Discovery Channel is seeking six real-life stories of ordinary but visionary individuals for this year's First Time Filmmakers (FTFM). FTFM, funded by Discovery Channel, is aimed at developing promising filmmakers in China.


Applicants must submit 30-minute documentaries focusing on contemporary China and the final six filmmakers will be offered training and professional development from the award-winning producers from Discovery Channel, as well as a chance to showcase their talent on an international level.


Shi Qiurong, a student of cinematography from Beijing Film Academy, was among the six winners last year. Shi broke Chinese stereotypes with Good Morning, Beijing, which has been nominated in two categories at this year's Asia Television Awards. Shi's lens captures a curious group of Beijing senior citizens who draw fun from learning English after retirement.


They share the excitement about the upcoming 2008 Beijing Olympics and the opportunity to meet English-speaking tourists.


The main character Yang Jing, 73, is one of the English students. He started learning English when he enrolled his grandson in an English-language kindergarten, where parents and guardians may observe from the back of the class. He is now a regular volunteer guide for foreign tourists at the Forbidden City.


Last year's other winners include Mongolian Idol, Car Crazy, Women of the Long Braid, Out of the Dark and Art Factory. The documentaries received financing and premiered as a series, "China 21" on Discovery Channel in the Asia Pacific region this October and 26 leading cable TV stations in China. They were screened in more than 114 million homes.


"I once thought of shooting films right after graduation. But now I find it necessary to start my career by making documentaries. Film has its roots in real life. As a documentary director, I learn more about the world," Shi said.


Cui Hongxin, a 27-year-old independent director, is presenting Car Crazy, which documents the dream of Sun Zhongqi, a country resident, and his passion for "monster car modification."


"For a long time, many Chinese directors mistook documentary making for an individualistic art form just to express their own feelings," said Cui. "But Discovery's real-life entertainment taught me that audiences are the first thing for a documentary. I am learning to make an international-style documentary with Chinese characteristics." Now Cui is preparing to shoot his next documentary about car enthusiast Yang Jun who drives his modified Jeep to Spain next year.


However, domestic productions still have far to go to match top Western documentaries. "Lack of funding and marketing is a problem confronting Chinese documentary-making," said Shi. "What impressed me most was that Discovery producers always considered the audience's taste first and never felt shy to talk about profits."


Twelve short listed applicants will be selected to attend the final in Guangzhou on December 4-5.


(China Daily November 16, 2006)

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