Cannes: Jia Zhangke Begins Shooting Documentary About Chinese Literature (Exclusive)

Jia Zhangke H

The film will complete the celebrated auteur's trilogy of documentaries about different artistic disciplines in China.

Chinese auteur Jia Zhangke won't be spotted on the Croisette during this year's Cannes Film Festival. Instead, the celebrated director, whose last four films have premiered in competition at the festival, is at home in China shooting his next feature.

Jia began production this week on So Close My Land, a feature documentary set in his home province of Shanxi, China. The film is the final, belated installment in Jia's trilogy of documentaries about various art disciplines, following Dong (2006), a portrait of Chinese painter Liu Xiaodong, and Useless (2007), which explored China's fashion industry.

So Close My Land focuses on a literature festival Jia co-founded in Shanxi. The event gathers a multigenerational roster of China's most esteemed writers, including novelists Jia Pingwa, Liang Hong and You Hua (China's first winner of the James Joyce Award) for public discussions about their craft and contemporary currents in Chinese art and culture.

"[These authors] are from different periods — different eras of economic growth, lifestyle and literary practice," Jia told THR from Shanxi. "We will shoot their approach to creation, discussions of their personal experiences and thoughts on the future." He added: "I hope this will construct a film of Chinese feeling, with a spirit that captures the passage of history."

The film is produced by Jia's Xstream Pictures, Huayi Brothers Media, Shanxi Film Group and the state-backed Huaxia Film Group. Zhang's wife and muse, actress Zhao Tao, serves as a producer on the film. The filmmakers expect the project to be ready for submission to a leading international film festival as soon as this fall.

Jia said his ultimate aim with both the festival and film was to celebrate literature and advocate for its essential social value as an art form — especially in traditional Chinese village life.

"Under this current era of consumerism, literature still has vigor, but people are gradually losing the habit of reading serious work," he said. "Through this film and festival, we hope to bring our great writers and literary works closer to everyday people."