By Pang Xinhua, Xu Yanqiu and James Bayliss-Smith
The five-part documentary “Expo’s meaning, Shanghai’s Mission,” produced by CCTV News, which is going to be broadcast from August 10th to 14th, is unique in, among other things, that its production team comes from different nations. Its host is an eminent American author, corporate strategist, one-time brain scientist and now influential China expert, Robert Lawrence Kuhn. He is widely known for writing The Man Who Changed China: The Life and Legacy of Jiang Zemin. And, this documentary was directed by an Emmy Award-winning American director Peter Getzels. We have three Chinese cameramen (including one jib operator), and four directors (three Chinese, one British) who act as assistant directors to Peter.
It was clear from day one that this was no ordinary project. The Shanghai World Expo is a big deal to China; they are hosting every single nation of the world in a huge six-month event that focuses on the overarching Expo theme of Better city, Better life. We were tasked with making a five part documentary series on Expo, in total, two and a half hours of television! Led by Mr. Wang Feizhou, we had during our research developed five themes for the episodes.
1. Better City, Better Life
2. The World comes to Shanghai
3. Shanghai’s Epic Story
4. China Goes to the World
5. New Shanghai, New World
Our multinational Chinese/American/British crew set out for Expo at the end of March for the first of three separate shoots. The series producer Pang Xinhua had assembled a great crew. At one point on the shoot we had 16 people collaborating harmoniously.
The actual shooting was great fun with the whole team busying behind the camera and with Robert meeting the various characters the directors had organised for him to talk with. We did very few static sit-down interviews. So our challenge was to find interesting places for Robert to do walking/talking interviews. Luckily Expo is such a visually stunning place that this wasn’t a problem. One favourite of ours was when we interviewed an Expo engineer about the innovative solar roof of the huge theme pavilion. Of course we had to do the interview on the actual roof! Something no other media organisation in the world had asked to do, but we insisted and finally got a visually stunning scene in the can.
It is generally felt by the production team that, "Better City, Better Life" is Shanghai's vision of a grand future, where human diversity is celebrated, not a cause of conflict; where cross-cultural communication leads to common understanding; and where the city of Shanghai itself signals to the world what astounding progress can be made when there is a will to succeed and a willingness to change.
With his extensive on-site interview and reporting, Robert believes that World Expo 2010 Shanghai exemplifies China's peaceful rise, and foreigners who seek to understand China and to assess China's position in the world, can do no better than to visit.
World Expo 2010, a global village set in Shanghai, is more than a world's fair. It is a window through which one can see the future, invite viewers to question the relevance of the so-called "China threat" and to consider the validity of an emerging "China model." Zhou Hanmin, Deputy Director of Shanghai Expo’s Executive Committee, said in Robert’s interview that, the Shanghai Expo showcases “China and the world coming together for the benefit of all humankind.”
To Robert’s question on how the Expo will help in overcoming the financial crisis, Yu Zhengsheng, the Shanghai Party Secretary replied, “To solve the financial crisis, consumption has to be stimulated. Investment is also needed. The most important task is to develop industry. This relates directly to consumption and investment. For industry to develop, we must have low-carbon technology and environmental-friendly technology. This is a pressing task for all humanity, if we're to live in harmony with Nature.”
The documentary demonstrates that opening up is very important for China still, 30 years after China’s reform and opening-up. Wu Jianmin, honorary President of the Bureau of International Exhibition, is interviewed in saying, "We have to change ourselves to embrace globalization. If we fail to do so, we will not update to globalization. That’s the secret of China’s success. We have to continue this path. The world is advancing. It’s part of human civilization. The Chinese are not close-minded. They have to learn from other civilizations. But we don’t copy others. We have to learn from others, and adapt what we’ve learned to the Chinese reality."
Other highlights included interviewing Zhao Qizheng, the former Minister of the Information Office. He was the man behind the massive development of parts of Shanghai over the last 15 years. We interviewed him on the deck of a boat travelling on the river in front of Shanghai’s famous skyline. Another highlight was interviewing Quincy Jones, the world famous music producer (he produced Michael Jackson’s Thriller) who had written Expo’s theme song "Better City, Better Life".