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A real story forgotten, a reel story remembered

Updated: 2012-05-04 09:56
By Liu Wei ( China Daily)

Director Wang Xiaoshuai recalls the afternoon his father taught him to paint in Guizhou's provincial capital Guiyang, where his family had been sent as the government moved its military production to Central and West China.

He included the scene in his latest work, 11 Flowers, a loosely autobiographical film to commemorate 1976. He was 11 years old that year.

His mother was an engineer in a factory that produced military periscopes, so the family were relocated from Shanghai.

His father left the Shanghai Theater Academy to work in a small Peking Opera troupe.

Many shared the fate of Wang's family from the mid-1960s through the '70s. They were relocated from big cities to such places as Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan provinces.

Some never returned.

The 47-year-old director hopes to record the history that's little known to younger audiences.

Wang sets the story in a factory deep in Sichuan's mountains and reveals the lives of these migrants through the eyes of four 11-year-old boys.

Wang says the thing he remembers most about growing up was the distance from the outside world. The factory was a micro-society in itself. The migrants and their children rarely interacted with the locals.

In the film and in Wang's experience, they would alleviate their homesickness by singing in Shanghai dialect after dinner.

Protagonist Wang Han resembles Wang Xiaoshuai in many ways. Like the real Wang, Wang Han's father is a Peking Opera troupe actor. But the fictional small town doesn't need his talent. The dad encourages his boy to learn to paint, because an artist can always paint and doesn't need anyone to give him a job.

The ability to paint that Wang Xiaoshuai learned from his father helped him enter the middle school affiliated with the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.

He later studied at the Beijing Film Academy. He caught the world's eye in 2001 with the Berlin Silver Bear-winning Beijing Bicycle about a young courier's life.

Wang was lucky. Many migrants stayed in the places they were relocated to. And so did their children.

"They couldn't really be part of the local society, but after so many years away, they found their hometown was also a different place that they needed to adjust to," he says.

"They've sacrificed for the country, but their stories are hardly told."

The film will compete with such Hollywood blockbusters as Men in Black III and The Avengers when released on May 18.

Wang has grossed some money from online, television and overseas copyrights.

Wang says he doesn't expect to snap up a huge chunk of the domestic box office with such an "auteur movie".

But he hopes the government will do more to support art house films.

The film will be released in France on May 9, but it won't have to compete with commercial blockbusters there, as about 20 percent of the country's screens are for art films, he points out.

And a certain amount of revenue from commercial films, cinemas and TV stations in France is used to fund art films.

"Our government gives grants to ballet troupes, symphony orchestras and writers' guilds but not to art films," he says.

"But I don't see a real difference between these art forms."

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