'Delamu', a new documentary by fifth generation film director Tian Zhuangzhuang, shows the lives and culture of people living on the remote border of Yunnan and Tibet and opened in cinemas last month in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
A beautiful account of the lives of people living along the old Nu river, the film took five years to shoot and is the first installment of the series the ¡®Southern Silk Road¡¯. Delamu is the Tibetan word for peace and also the name given to a mule in the film.
Until modernity, China¡¯s connection to the outside world basically consisted of the more famous Silk Road to the north, and the southern Silk Road, or tea-horse trail as its known in Chinese. The latter was a dangerous route taken by horse caravans carrying tea, food, salt and other goods and has been in existence for around 2,000 years. The route took horse-caravans through cragged mountainous areas eastward into Tibet and even further to Nepal and India. While the northern Silk Road is the more famous of the two routes, in recent years the southern Silk Road has attracted more and more interest.
The film follows a horse caravan of over 30 men and 70 horses. As the team travels on the narrow path, at times only wide enough for one person to pass at a time, we come across people of different ethnic groups and different religions. A 104-year-old blind lady tells of her tough life and says one should be firm and brave in the face of hardship. A 19-year-old young man recounts how he and his brother share a wife. The head of a small village recalls his wife who ran away. One of the men in the caravan weeps over the death of his mule after being hit by falling stones. A young Tibetan lama bashfully recollects the girl he loved.
These fascinating stories, told as they are against breathtakingly beautiful landscapes, gives one a rare sense of serenity. Here in a land of almost untouched culture, everything continues naturally and smoothly. Change is very slow and barely noticeable. We see smoke from the chimneys drifting up at supper time, kids playing basketball after school and religious villagers praying in a small church. It¡¯s a restrained picture of an idyllic life.
The film certainly requires patience as the life of local people proceeds little faster than a snail¡¯s pace. Sometimes the camera fixes on one scene for a while. Tian Zhuangzhuang doesn¡¯t provide the audience with any voiceovers. What can be heard is only the voice of nature and the narrators.
¡°When we got there, we found our prepared plans or fabricated ideas about shooting the film were unnecessary. We didn¡¯t need to do anything except listen and talk with them,¡± said the director.
¡°These people give you strength, a feeling of happiness and delight from the bottom of your heart, yet they won¡¯t change the way they are simply because of your praise and admiration.¡±
The acclaimed director¡¯s first documentary received a good reception at the recently concluded Tribeca Film Festival. So far the documentary has done reasonably well at the box-office in Beijing.