Director Sha Bihong and Zhang Tao: Reflect the Most Fascinating and Genuine Tibet (Excerpt)
Director Sha Bihong and Zhang Tao: Reflect the Most Fascinating and Genuine Tibet
By Sha Bihong & Zhang Tao; Issued at 13:44:00, November 09, 2010; Source: China Tibet Portal
We have travelled a lot and filmed a lot, most of which have gone away in our memory, but not the New Tibet.
It was the end of November 2009, or 5 months before the Opening of Shanghai World Expo, when we took the mission of filming New Tibet，the theme film for Tibet Pavilion of Shanghai World Expo. Indeed, we had a meeting to discuss about whether we would send people to film the New Tibet or not.For a company and team that specializes in content producing and filming, we don’t care about one more movie. Instead, what we care is how we can ensure its quality and whether we can make it a perfect one. Of course, the discussion led to the decision to take the mission. Besides, we decided to make it a classic one in spite of all difficulties. The decision we made was originated from three factors. First, we felt it meaningful to be involved in Shanghai World Export. Second, though this movie had a short period of producing, which might brings some tension and difficulty for our filming work, The Customs of Tibet had made a lot of preliminary planning work before and had formed clear-cut ideas. Last but not least, I had the great confidence in myself and in the production quality and experience of our team.
Sha Bihong, Director of the theme movie New Tibet and photographer A Zhi were filming in the Tibetan teahouse.
On the night when it was decided that we would be included in the camera crew of New Tibet of The Customs of Tibet, we had a meeting discussing about the creativity and the script. In a small restaurant in the east of Beijing, Sha Yongjun, Zhang Tao, A Jie and I sat around the table with a hot pot, talking for a long time without eating much food. The discussion lasted after midnight until the restaurant was closed for the day. We discussed the content in the entire movie, including its style and ways of scene expression as well as the pace and structure. All of us felt free to express our ideas on the natural sceneries of Tibet, its history and culture, our impressions on and perception of Tibet, and how to record and express Tibet in the movie. Each of us was excited and popped out smart ideas.
After discussing the topics mentioned about, we decided to focus on the term “new” and fully consider the theme of Shanghai World Expo, “City Makes Life Better”. By depicting new Tibet, new life, new development and new changes in our scenes, and by expressing the inherent Tibetan culture, we helped both Chinese and overseas audience understand the prosperous development of Tibet today and its energy and dynamics as well. While watching this movie, the audience could also experience the wonderful life in Tibet.
Since we decided to focus on the term “new”, we should not make it in a simple and straightforward way, or make it like a photo exhibition or ads illustration.The scenes should be story-oriented and the narration should be clear-cut in levels, having rises and falls and be appealing.We found a breakthrough of details, that was to express our ideas with the strongly-contrasted film language, or the contrast between the new and the old, between the static and the dynamic, between the profound and the fervent, between the tranquil and the jazzy, traditional and modern, primitive and high-tech, etc.We tried our best to seek and capture the interrelations between the normal life of people and the history and culture of Tibet by focusing on the moments when the two elements interact with each other.
After the positioning of the color film was determined, we began to work on the scripts at that night. The first version of the script was passed. Keeping in mind the experts’ views on modifying the script, we set forth on our journey while improving the script.
In the process of filming, we gave top priority to reality and details. It was my hope that we could deliver Tibet as we felt directly to the audience in a truthful way. We would capture the unique beauty of Tibet instead of presenting the artificially beautified Tibet.
As a result, we made the plan that we tried hard to avoid interpreting Tibet in a conceptual way. Instead, we wished to film Tibet in its original and genuine taste to avoid affectation.We didn’t use actors or actresses to perform the life of Tibetans. We said no to the posing approach as used in ads. And we refused to set up any manmade scene.
Tibet is so beautiful and so intoxicating. When I set my feet on the land of Tibet, my heart was shocked deeply.
Looking down on Tibet from the plane, we could find the grooves between mountains were just like the beautiful trees painted by artists on the ground.Ice and snow on the mountains emitted dazzling light in the sunshine. After flying over the marvellous and fairyland mountains, we had Lhasa, a city of wonder, showing up right in front of us.
After getting off the plane and taking the bus, we drove on the winding mountain road and saw the clean river water keeping following us. Our eyes were always attracted by this or that scene on the river, either the birds flying freely, or the colorful flags in the bushes. And when our bus reached the city of Lhasa, our eyes were then attracted by the fascinating Tibetan buildings, the flowers on the window panes, the Tibetan elderly people who were sitting or standing in an idle and d relaxed way, and the Tibetan girls who were driving red cars, etc.
The scenes, the people and the life were so vivid and fresh that we could find no “scene” or “actor” that could match them. We focused our lens on the real Tibet and people. And we had the opportunity to walk into the households of Tibetant people, drinking butter tea, rotating the praying wheel and entering cafe together with them. By living with them for a day, we recorded the real scenerio in their daily life with our filming camera. I believe that such innocent expression is what we pursue because it is beautiful, real and natural, but not artificial.
After all, what we were making was not a documentary. And the reality we were pursuing was different from the real expressions in the documentary. The documentary is long and might be fact-based. However, the movie we made was only 10 minutes in length with each scene having to be wonderful.As a result, each real scene in this movie had to be denser, more aesthetic and expressive. Because of this and because of the short filming period,Lu Na and the always-busy Jia Cuo and De Zhen made great efforts to contact local Tibetan families, thus creating favorable conditions for us to realize what we had wanted in the filming. We would like to express great gratitude to them, the first Tibetan couple I had ever met and cooperated with.
Of course, we also filmed actors and actresses who were Tibetans proficient in dancing and singing.Each day, they would perform for a few times on different stages. They would dance freely and excitedly under the blue sky dotted with white clouds. Tibetans are really a bold and unconstrained nation.The pleasant dance and music in the sun often intoxicated and even touched us to the greatest extent.
The first-time filming happened in winter time. And in March in early spring, the camera teams went out again to Tibet to film some beautiful spring sceneries in the region. This time, Zhang Tao headed a team to Linzhi to film the natural sceneries and I headed a team to Lhasa for more scenes in spring time.
While in Lhasa, we spent a lot of time in the park at the foot of Potala Palace to film the life of Tibetan people doing morning exercise or rotating the praying wheel.We also filmed the vegetable and flower farms in Tibet. All camera team members felt the hospitability of Tibetan people.Besides, we also filmed a supermarket, which brought us a little surprise because I had never seen any photo or description about supermarket in Lhasa.When filming in the supermarkets, I had some illusion and thought it was a supermarket in Beijing or Shanghai.I didn’t realize I were in a Tibetan supermarket until a few fashionable girls dressed in Tibetan costumes were seen in the lens.
Though the movie lasts only 10 minutes, the filming design and process are worth recording. Because of the time limit, I will only talk about the design of the movie start, which was improved when we filmed the supplementary scenes.
We started early in the morning when it was still dark outside. Climbing on the top of the high mountain, we tried to find a place where we could see the sunrise in the city.And we kept doing so for a few days.In this movie, Lahsa starts a new day with excitement and passion. The ancient but fresh sun rises above all kinds of buildings in Lahsa. The sunlight runs on buildings, spreads on people’s shoulders, and rotates on the spraying wheels of Tibetans. Lahsa, a city both young and old, wakes up in another routine day that is exciting and normal.
The few seconds shown in the movie took us a dozen hours of filming in a few early mornings. But we all believe that the hard work we made is worthwhile.
Thanks to the great efforts of all team members, the New Tibet was shown at Shanghai World Expo. I once sat in the theatre of Tibetan Pavilion to view this movie and could still sense the excitement that we felt when filming it.Of course, we had some pity and deficiency in this movie. But all of us have spared no efforts on it.I once called Zhang Tao in the Tibetan Pavilion and hope he, A Jie and other members in the camera team who had contributed to the movie could be here and view the result of their work, which might be quite different from others. Probably this is because the movie is related to Tibet. Or perhaps this is because the topography, life style and folk customs on this plateau are quite shocking and impressive.
We have learnt and felt a lot when filming the New Tibet. We will use the experience as the stimulating force for our next movie. Sincerely, we hope to visit Tibet again and make another movie about Tibet.
(The authors are Director Sha Bihong and Director Zhang Tao of New Tibet, the theme movie of Tibetan Pavilion in Shanghai World Expo)