We were very excited to meet the award-winning documentarian Lixin Fan. The moment we exchanged our first greetings we knew that not only is he handsome, but also a gentleman. We were gently reminded that the time was a bit constrained as he was about to fly the same afternoon out of Beijing.
Born in 1977 in Wuhan, Lixin is the youngest in the family. His father introduced him to documentaries at a time when TV was not a common household item. His father, a school principal, used to bring home documentary films on science and discoveries. His parents were quite open about his career choice. “After undergoing six surgeries in my childhood, my parents were very lenient with me,” Fan chuckled. He was only a kid, when the surgeries kept him away from the playgrounds, but that is how he learnt to question the world around him. This attitude helped him to tell the powerful stories of rural people in China - be it the story of a family affected by AIDS in To Live Is Better Than To Die, or the struggle of migrant workers in The Last Train Home. Inspired by the philosophies of Plato and Lu You, he wanted to do something meaningful, which would help him to contribute to society. He grew a liking towards films and documentaries at an early age and in his teens, Fan assisted his projectionist brother by holding the movie reels at theatres. Later in his college days, his brother supplied him the extra copies of video cassettes of Hong Kong and Hollywood movies which he watched on his professor’s video player. “I wanted to study filmmaking at Beijing Film Academy, but my scores were not enough so instead I chose English as my major,” he said. After graduating, he joined a Wuhan local TV station giving him ample scope to watch various broadcast tapes as a part of his job. Pretty soon he became a proud part of CCTV. Fan traveled through many rural districts of China to cover stories as a video journalist and witnessing the disparity between urban and rural lives sealed the idea of making documentaries on true stories.
The Last Train Home was his debut directorial and won him many awards, including the Chinese Emmy. His latest released project is BBC’s Earth: One Amazing Day, where he was exclusively responsible for the Chinese version (voiced by the one and only Jackie Chan). The film is a jaw-dropping trip around the world in a single day, capturing wildlife in their natural habitat. It is the first international natural history documentary to be fully released in China. Fan, an animal lover, knew the struggle of shooting a natural history film. He shared stories of how the camera crew had to wear panda costumes and spray panda excreta on themselves and their equipments to get the close-up shots of the baby panda and how many drones were sacrificed while shooting the white-headed langurs climbing the cliffs. “It took us about three years to complete the shooting of this film, and the real heroes are all those wildlife photographers who were behind the cameras,” he said.
His next project is a French-Chinese co-produced documentary to be released next year called Ways To School that captures the struggle of children going to school in different parts of the world. School is the place where children learn, dream, and think about changing the future. “They see the world differently; their dreams are innocent, simple, and full of hope. It is an ode to the power of dreams and the right to education,” Fan said.
We were so engrossed in his story that we failed to watch our time. Our conversation ended when his taxi was about to arrive. We left with the hope of capturing more of his work and interviewing him for his next success.
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