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Master director's work still resonates

By CHEN MEILING/LIU KUN | China Daily | Updated: 2021-04-27 09:33
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Dutch director Joris Ivens' enthusiasm for truth inspired him to travel thousands of miles to China in 1938, then engulfed in its fight against fascists, and risked his life recording gunfire, refugees and soldiers with his camera.

His documentary, The 400 Million, relates China's suffering under Japanese aggression and the people's efforts to safeguard territorial integrity and peace during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45), from a foreign perspective.

Ivens and his co-workers stayed in Wuhan, Hubei province, for several weeks in February 1938, before taking a part in the Battle of Taierzhuang in Shandong province, a major victory for China during the war. His lens captured heartbreaking images of aircraft bombing, residents fleeing in all directions, injured soldiers being treated and tanks and guns captured from the enemy.

Song Jian, deputy director of the Wuhan Municipal CPC History Research Office, says the Dutch director and his team didn't come out of a sense of curiosity or chasing wealth, but for "revealing the brutality of fascist invaders and the bravery of Chinese soldiers to the world" and to "contribute to safeguarding peace".

The film crew returned to Wuhan in April 1938 and was invited to a grand tea reception with about 200 representatives from Chinese film, opera, culture and news industries.

Ivens met Zhou Enlai, then a leader of the Communist Party of China, in Hankou district of Wuhan. In May, they arrived at Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province, expecting to shoot the film in Yan'an, Shaanxi, but failed, as they were obstructed by the Kuomintang government.

After returning to Wuhan in June, they filmed a scene when locals donated cash and jewelry to the army, the foundation-laying ceremony of the monument for soldiers killed in the war, and revolutionist and litterateur Guo Moruo gave impassioned speeches to the public to encourage them to fight.

Ivens also filmed leaders of the CPC discussing and analyzing situations on the battlefield in a secret meeting held at a school in Wuhan, in which Zhou participated.

After hearing that the Eighth Route Army in Yan'an was about to establish a film shooting team, he gave a handheld camera and photographic film as a gift to them, before leaving the country.

Song says the documentary is of great significance to the whole world, as it reflects the real circumstances of Chinese people fighting Japanese invaders, and that "many documentaries, films and TV operas have used scenes from his work".

In 1939, the documentary was released to a public show in New York, and then in more countries such as France, the Netherlands and Belgium, making a huge impression. It's said that he donated medical supplies to the Chinese using income generated from the film.

Qiu Zixin, 24, an administrative member of staff in Wuhan, watched the documentary. She says it vividly records the disaster invaders brought to Chinese people and the stories of Chinese soldiers and residents united to fight for national sovereignty, independence and freedom.

"It also shows the key role of CPC members in the war, and China's contribution to the anti-fascist battle, to the world," she says. "It's a fair, objective and credible documentary and important historical record that tells of the pursuit of justice and human conscience."

Born in 1898, Ivens was a master documentary director with more than 50 works, many of which are about revolutionary struggles and those with deep social and political concerns. He received the Golden Lion award for lifetime achievement at the 45th Venice film festival in 1988. He passed away in 1989.

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