This thirty minute documentary film was shot with a student crew during spring of 2006 at Qingdao middle school number 58 and in Qingdao city, Shandong province, the People’s Republic of China. Qingdao is on the east coast, about halfway between Beijing and Shanghai. It was a German concession and colony from the 1890s until WWI (similar to the more longstanding British seizure of Hong Kong during the Opium Wars), occupied by the Japanese during WWII then returned to Chinese control. The Japanese actor– and frequent collaborator/muse of Akira Kurosawa– Toshiro Mifune was born there. The city has nothing left of Japan but it remains somewhat Germanic: colonial buildings, a seaside promenade, a Catholic cathedral and the eponymous (“Tsingtao”) beer factory.
This film and my time at Qingdao 58 were part of the Connecting Cultures project funded by Creative Partnerships and commissioned by Solent Centre for Architecture + Design. Meanwhile Chinese film maker Shi Ruo was working on the film’s English counterpart at Sholing Technology College in the city of Southampton, UK. The intention was to give students in both schools and both countries some insight into each others’ lives by having them be involved in the making of both the Southampton and the Qingdao films, including access to the raw footage. Qingdao 58 Middle had its UK premiere at Harbour Lights Cinema, Southampton, in late 2006 and was also made available on DVD as an educational resource for schools. Teachers and students at schools in both countries were wonderfully enthusiastic about the finished film and the process of making it. The families of the students in China were incredibly kind and hospitable too.
The only “official” comment from the omnipresent Communist Party functionaries was that I had not made the sky look blue enough in Qingdao– extremely ironic because they didn’t know that my colour grading and post-production HAD in fact made the skies and the colours in general considerably more vivid than they were to the unaided eye, in imitation of China’s contemporary, hyperreal, Photoshop-abusing propaganda. Like all Chinese cities, Qingdao’s skies generally glow yellowish-grey with smog. I should imagine they were thinking of exactly that, the colour the sky always is in old Communist films or Party billboards; unfortunately even by the sea at Qingdao, that type of clear blue sky exists only in the imagination.
On the other hand, my later experiences with film making in China show that with hindsight I’d got off quite lightly with such a mild criticism of my propagandist rectitude.
And yes, apparently there are at least 57 other schools in Qingdao.