Seeing ‘China from Above’

By Lu Qianwen Source:Global Times Published: 2015-9-24 17:58:01

New National Geographic documentary presents a new angle on China

A still from National Geographic documentary China from Above Photo: Courtesy of China Intercontinental Communication Center

A still from National Geographic documentary China from Above Photo: Courtesy of China Intercontinental Communication Center

Filming a promotional documentary can be a thankless job. Even after spending tons of money and putting in an exhausting effort, audiences may still end up not feeling moved. In an attempt to avoid the pitfalls of the past, the National Geographic Channel International (NGCI) decided it might be worth trying to re-introduce China to the world from a different point of view in China from Above.

A two-episode documentary co-produced by NGCI and the China Intercontinental Communication Center (CICC), hit NGCI's US channel on Thursday night. This comes after a 30-second promo spot for tourism in China began airing on Tuesday to coincide with Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to the US.

Led by the NGCI, filming for China from Above mainly took place entirely in the air. The use of drones increased production costs compared to similar documentaries, but according to Jules Oldroyd, senior vice president of NGCI, this decision was absolutely necessary and is one of the biggest differences that separates China from Above from other documentaries about China.

"We are trying to think of stories that not only resonate here, but also internationally. The unique thing about China from Above is the use of drones and the new filming and camera (technology) we got available now. People got to see a China which hasn't been seen before from the air," Jules told the Global Times.

Possessed of a vast area and sharply differing natural environments from region to region, China is explored in a way that many audiences haven't had the chance to see before. Through an aerial view, the country's magnificent natural scenery and long-standing historic architecture are presented in a truly awe-inspiring way.

From the Great Wall's 20,921 kilometer length and the famous hanging temple in Shanxi Province to the water blessing festival of the Dai ethnic minority group and the traditional hawk hunting of the Kazak people, China's land and culture are on display in high-definition aerial shots.

Although most of the country is seen from above, Jules explained that the documentary also aims to combine large-scale visual displays with small personal stories that can give viewers a new perspective on China.

"Some of my favorites are the water blessing of the Dai people, Heaven's Gate, the Hani Rice Terraces and the Ice City. They leave you with a yearning to experience more of what China has to offer," she said.

Answers to the challenges facing China as a developing country can also be found in the documentary. From large-scale wind power stations to solar energy parks, from super voltage power networks to large LNG tankers, China's determination to enter a new era through sustainable technologies is clearly delivered to audiences.

"We've produced many exquisite promotional films before, but they were limited when it came to communicating with an international audience," said Jing Shuiqing, deputy director of CICC.

"But NGCI was there with us all the way during the filming of China from Above, so it has a very international perspective that should be a better fit for overseas audiences."

While the documentary may not be showing anything that other films have shown, the producers hope the aerial perspective, as well as the international one, will help make the documentary a success that will act as a fresh start for future documentaries in China.

Premiering on CCTV's documentary channel on Monday, China from Above is also airing in a number of countries throughout Asia.

 While the documentary is the first official project co-produced by the CICC and NGCI through the two organizations' China Revealed project, other documentaries, such as one on China's One Belt, One Road initiative, are expected to follow.

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