Chronicling the progress of the times and social changes, documentaries delve deep into real life, capture faithfully the changes of the times and thus acclaimed by audiences. On June 21, STVForum “New Era Based Expression and International Narrative – Innovative Development of Documentaries” was held to provide Chinese and foreign guests with a platform for discussion.
Mission of documentaries in our times -
To record “changes in the world, the times and history”
In 1993, China’s first documentary program Documentary Editorial Office was born in Shanghai, followed by China’s first professional documentary channel, DOCUTV, in 2002. Shanghai is thus closely related to the development of Chinese documentaries. This year, Shanghai TV Festival (STVF) established the “Documentary Day” for the first time, to further promote the high-quality development of documentaries in the new era, and highlight documentaries’ missions as the record, witness and ode to the new era.
Liu Meiru, Deputy Director of Publicity Department of National Radio and Television Administration
Liu Meiru, Deputy Director of the Publicity Department of National Radio and Television Administration, said in her speech at the forum that the new era has seen the progresses made by the documentary sector with richer themes, diversified perspectives, improved production, expanded broadcasting platform, and integrated communication. This year marks the start of the comprehensive implementation of the spirit of the 20th CPC National Congress, documentary workers should plow more efforts on the new journey, take up new cultural missions, and strive to contribute to the modern civilization of the Chinese nation. That is, first, to strengthen the ideological leadership, and to unite people spiritually; second, to build up cultural confidence, and to delight the people with high-quality products; third, to be righteous and aggressive, and to promote development through innovation.
Liu Ying, Secretary of the Party Committee and Director of the Logistics Service Bureau of the National Radio and Television Administration
Liu Ying, Secretary of the Party Committee and Director of the Logistics Service Bureau of the National Radio and Television Administration, pointed out that positioned at a new historical starting point, it is necessary to for the documentary sector to pioneer thinking and fully consider how documentaries could take on new missions, develop new advantage and forge a new brilliance with a new role on the new journey of the new era. The creation of documentaries should focus on the mainstream, as well as the “changes in the world, in the times, and in history” and, truly based on the modernization process of China, to produce masterpieces for the new era; it is necessary to strengthen the spiritual leadership, keeping the people always at the core of the narrative and under the spotlight of the camera, to tell the Chinese stories with a language of humanity and ethos unique to the times; to take further the concept of “documentary +”, to connect various elements in the industry chain, and to realize social value, commercial value and artistic value of documentaries; to switch the main track at the right time, make good use of the Internet platform, which is the main battlefield and the forefront, and to promote high-quality works with more “online work qualities” overseas.
Song Jiongming, Deputy Secretary of the Party Committee, Director and CEO of Shanghai Media Group
Song Jiongming, Deputy Secretary of the Party Committee, Director and CEO of Shanghai Media Group, gave four suggestions for the development of documentaries: first, we should adhere to the original aspiration, that is to be people-centered in creation; second, we should maintain persistence, this is, documentary filmmakers must be persist through the elapsing years to create valuable documentaries; third, we should build up confidence, that is, we should be confident in our culture and show the spirit of China to the world with documentaries full of cultural confidence; fourth, we should be ambitious, to instill every documentary work the confidence and strength to be passed down for generations.
To further promote the collaborative development of documentaries, the “Yangtze River Delta Working Committee for Documentaries” was established at the forum. Liu Meiru, Deputy Director of the Publicity Department of National Radio and Television Administration, Liu Ying, Secretary of the Party Committee and Director of the Logistics Service Bureau of the National Radio and Television Administration, Zhang Yu, Deputy Director of the Logistics Service Bureau of the National Radio and Television Administration, Luo Yi, Deputy Director of Shanghai Municipal Administration of Radio and Television, Shen Jun, Secretary of the Party Committee and Chairman of Shanghai Media Group, Song Jiongming, Deputy Secretary of the Party Committee, Director and CEO of Shanghai Media Group, Ji Jiannan, Member of the Party Committee and Deputy Director of Jiangsu Broadcasting Corporation, Zhou Xueming, Director of Anhui Broadcasting Corporation Documentary Center, Shen Yun, Deputy Director of Zhejiang Media Group, and other leaders and guests, attended the inauguration ceremony. The “Yangtze River Delta Working Committee for Documentaries” will strengthen the exchange and cooperation of documentary creation in the Yangtze River Delta through joint investment and production of documentary projects and joint operation of documentary programs to promote the vigorous development of domestic documentaries while facilitating the circulation of cultural elements in the Yangtze River Delta and accelerating the integration of content industries.
To innovate documentaries in
a perspective and language that can be easily understood
Tang Jun, researcher and head of the Department of Radio and Television at the School of Journalism, Fudan University
The most essential aspect of documentaries is to reflect “the changes of the world, of the times, and of history”, so innovative expression of documentaries is crucial. On June 21, a roundtable discussion on “The Innovative Expression of Documentaries in the New Era” was hosted by Tang Jun, researcher and head of the Department of Radio and Television at the School of Journalism, Fudan University.
Xu Huan, producer and director of China Media Group
Xu Huan, producer and director of China Media Group, revealed that this year celebrates the 12th anniversary of CCTV-9, and one of the key words in its 12-year history is “innovation”, that is, to follow the footsteps of the times, which is a constant pursuit of the CCTV documentary team. In the era of media fusion, CCTV-9 has brought in short videos and reached cooperation with various new media partners. Xu Huan also said that a common view among us is that documentaries should tell stories that have not been told, and in this process, documentarians should assume the role of spiritual guide, “We have to think about how to express through the perspective and narrative language that are easy to understand.”
Zhang Tongdao, Director of Documentary Center of Beijing Normal University
Zhang Tongdao, director of the Documentary Center of Beijing Normal University, shared his opinion on the continuous innovation of the CCTV-9 documentary team. He believes that while THE FORBIDDEN CITY refreshed people’s perception of documentaries more than ten years ago, A BITE OF CHINA brought documentaries to new heights in terms of subtle expression of themes, pace of narrative and understanding of aesthetic details. Today’s documentary industry has hit a bottleneck, with increasingly flashy technology but inadequate creativity and a large amount of homogeneous output. “Documentaries require changes, to tell stories that have not been told before, or to excavate new dimensions of old stories, to evolve creatively in ideas, and to create new experiences in aesthetics.”
Qin Bo, head of Qin Bo Studio of SMG Documentary Center and general director of the documentary ON THE VAST FIELD
The demand for constant innovation is pushing documentary filmmakers to adopt more advanced and effective methods to create. Qin Bo, head of Qin Bo Studio of SMG Documentary Center and general director of the documentary ON THE VAST FIELD, said that we now expect to create “documentary with independent views”. Instead of the traditional shooting means based on observation in the past, we’d like to join the protagonist in shooting, and the documentarian will no longer be an observer alone. This is how ON THE VAST FIELD was shot. “I hope our filming will provoke some response from the local villages.” Qin Bo said, “In way, we will record how simple Chinese people in villages will act.”
Zhu Lexian, Head of A4 Studio, Content Production Department, Tencent Online Video
Speaking of innovation, Zhu Lexian, Head of A4 Studio, Content Production Department, Tencent Online Video, believes that documentary workers should fully leverage the trend of media fusion to improve the efficacy of storytelling. Nowadays, short videos have assumed the function of documentaries in delivering knowledge, and it is necessary for documentaries to work on the profoundness of content.
Li Dongshen, Chairman of BJ Culture and Head of Mango Bojing Documentary
Li Dongshen, Chairman of BJ Culture and Head of Mango Bojing Documentary, said that showing the derivation process of the theme is what makes a documentary. So, making a documentary requires us to take into account the underlying logic of the object or the industry being filmed.
Curiosity and empathy equally cherished
for international expression of documentaries
Wang Lijun, Director of SMG Documentary Center
In the roundtable discussion on “The International Narrative of Chinese Stories” hosted by Wang Lijun, Director of SMG Documentary Center, guests gave advices on how to help documentaries “go global”.
Documentary director Arthur Jones
Documentaries play an important role in telling Chinese stories overseas, so it is especially crucial to present documentaries in an international way, in a way that is appealing to the entire world. Arthur Jones, a documentary filmmaker, believes that human beings are more alike than they are not. In his opinion, the curiosity to explore the differences between each other and discover different ideas and “secrets” is a quality that documentary filmmakers need to possess. In addition, documentaries should sharpen the storytelling competence. For example, most foreigners don’t know that history of the Terra-Cotta Warriors and the First Emperor of Qin, “But through the Terra-Cotta Warriors, foreigners can easily gain this historical mood in that context. So, the way you tell the story is important. To shoot history, you don’t necessarily have to pile up existing materials, for example, when we shot THE SIX, we turned it into a detective film and an adventure film that was easily received by foreign audiences.”
Ryota Kotani, Chief Producer, NHK
Ryota Kotani, chief producer of NHK, said that it is as important to possess “curiosity” as it is to possess “empathy” if a documentary is to be communicated well. Filming in 4K or 8K, which is experimental equipment, can bring about satisfactory results and stimulate viewers’ interest, that is, “curiosity”. “Empathy” requires documentarians to choose subjects that resonate with people, such as showing the social tensions and life in China, which people around the world want to know.
Yuan Siuching, Senior Features Manager, TVB News and Information Department
In this regard, Yuan Siuching, Senior Features Manager, TVB News and Information Department, echoed this idea. According to her, in order to deliver effective “international expression” in documentaries, we must first find out what people want to know. For example, what kind of country China is and how Chinese people live there. It is also important to film people’s stories and how they face problems. All these can cause the world audience to “resonate”.
Cura Zhang, Senior Producer of Bilibili Documentary
Cura Zhang, Senior Producer of Bilibili Documentary, disclosed that the documentary of Bilibili has now become the second largest segment of video content. RENDEZVOUS WITH THE FUTURE, a science fiction documentary in cooperation with the BBC, has made substantial progress and is believed to be a boost to the development of Chinese documentaries. Hot pot, panda, terracotta warriors, and the Great Wall used to be the most frequently featured themes in Chinese documentaries, but overseas audiences are not interested in them. In recent years, their wilderness survival program ED STAFFORD: FIRST MAN OUT with BBC has achieved very good results in overseas distribution, through which viewers can see the beautiful, treacherous and diverse natural environment of China.
Steve Crabtree, Producer, BBC Studios
BBC Studios producer Steve Crabtree believes that the themes of documentaries used to be very limited, in which the mythology might only came from Egypt, Rome and Northern Europe. But now with so many themed before us, there are quite a lot of space for us to further explore through unique perspectives. Liu Cixin’s THREE-BODY is a good example. Although it is not a documentary, its unique science fiction angle is widely received among the audience.