2023 documentary film captures Chinese spirit from stories of ordinary Joe
Documentary captures Chinese spirit from stories of ordinary Joe
Published: Sep 12, 2023 10:39 PM
Promotional material for <em>Our Dreams Our Homeland</em> Photo: Courtesy of Qiao Yan

Promotional material for Our Dreams Our Homeland Photo: Courtesy of Qiao Yan

Documentary film Our Dreams Our Homeland is set to debut in Chinese mainland cinemas in November 2023. The production marks one of the very few Chinese documentaries in 2023 to hit the silver screen especially in light of the popularity of the motion-picture genre in cinemas and on TV. 

The documentary film has been six years in the making, it's co-produced by China Intercontinental Communication Center (CICC), Youku and Backlight Studio.

Real stories 

The director Qiao Yan describes the documentary subject's lives as art in and of themselves. Including the Xi Jire, the wrangler whose dream it is to win a horse-riding match at the Mongolian Nadam Fair, Our Dreams Our Homeland is a tapestry of 10 people's stories.

They include a beekeeping family's journey to provide their daughter with better education through apiculture; a Sichuan hot pot business couple's dilemma in choosing between preserving "food tradition" or considering "lucrative expansion;" an astronomy enthusiast's passionate search for pulsars, and a young woman on her space career journey as a rookie handling rocket fuel measurements. 

Unlike the traditional information-oriented documentary format, the team fragmented each storyline, creating a multi-storyline collage and montage of different day-to-day life experiences. 

"Winter, spring, summer, and Fall," is the narrative logic hidden behind such seemingly disorder narratives, Qiao told the Global Times.

In "winter," the film presents the subjects' dilemmas and difficulties. Taking the hot pot business couple, the Liao family, as an example, the thriving business of the couple's eatery in Chongqing creates a dilemma in which Liao, the husband, prefers to maintain the business's small size, while his wife favors a commercial expansion with an aim to maximize profit. 

So the documentary film unfolds, with the common threads like life's difficulties weaving seeming different lives and stories into one cohesive storyline. In so doing, the experiences of an animal wrangler and an aspiring space industry worker are more similar than they appear.  

Just as the arrival of spring brings with it new hopes, so too do the documentary's subjects' lives appear to improve, and as fall rolls in, the section of harvest, the beekeeping family has raised enough money to cover their daughter's postgraduate studies, while Pan Zhichen, the scientist, has managed to find 500 pulsars by using the 500-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope, FAST. 

"Using a multidimensional approach, the film broadens the narrative scope of the Chinese Dream from the perspective of ordinary people, paying tribute to ordinary and great participants of the era,"according to CICC.  

'Where the world meets Wondrous China' 

Qiao prefers to use the term "growing" describe Our Dreams Our Homeland and he told the Global Times that such an "artful documentary" was a result of not only "unorthodox editing and filming" techniques, but also a new narrative model designed to guide viewers to focus more on the "coffee maker." 

The subject-centric Chinese narrative design has gained international recognition including from documentary powerhouse countries in Europe. 

Prior to its Chinese debut, Our Dreams Our Homeland aired on, a global TV broadcasting network, in January 2023 during the Chinese New Year. "With both French and English subtitles, the documentary was able to reach a billion viewers in 65 countries worldwide and we bring the Chinese people's authentic stories to the world like our slogan 'Where the world meets Wondrous China' " according to CICC. 

In recent years, the dreams and feelings of family and country have continuously become the themes expressed in documentaries. In the context of the era of "individual to country", this film reflects on the relationship between an individual and the whole world. It deeply exploring stories of ordinary people in ordinary days, through depicting their struggles and obstacles, those ordinary lives have become extraordinary dreamers.

Behind them, there are thousands of dreamers who come together to build the "home dream" land with the spirit of the Chinese nation, emitting dazzling light together on this land of China.

Homestead is not only the small home of everyone, but also the collective residence of 1.4 billion Chinese people. The integration of countless people's dreams constitutes the dream of this country, and the future they hope for and strive for predicts where China's development path will lead. The documentary film is just like this, using small things to see big, integrating the story of a protagonist building dreams and realizing them into a magnificent epic of China's recent development. Ten short stories, spanning diverse geographical and ethnic cultural boundaries, involve multiple topics such as natural landforms, cultural customs, art and folk customs, social status, urban changes, technological development, etc., allowing us to see China's dreams come true one after another, full of vitality and continuity of national spirit.

In August, the documentary was screened as the opening piece at the China Documentary Festival, the country's first documentary-focused cultural event aimed at promoting new young directors' new projects as well as promoting Chinese productions overseas.