Diving Across the Country: Chinese Woman Produces Documentary to Highlight 'Underwater China'

Author:Zhang Dongliang April 26, 2020
Diving Across the Country: Chinese Woman Produces Documentary to Highlight 'Underwater China'
A shot of the documentary "Underwater China"

 

A documentary, "Underwater China," was broadcast in September 2019. The documentary — produced by shooting under water — shows the once-unknown charm of many natural scenes and ancient architecture across China. The documentary's chief director, Zhou Fang, is from Central China's Hunan Province. Zhou led her crew, during the past three years, in shooting antiquities under the water in 24 cities in China.

Like a Mermaid

Zhou is a native of Changsha, capital of Hunan Province. She is a fan of outdoor sports. In 2012, Zhou developed an interest in diving, after she saw photos taken by a friend under the water. She began learning how to dive, and she eventually passed the test to become a certified diver. Every time she dives deep down in the sea, she feels like she becomes a "mermaid," who is so happy, relaxed and peaceful while dancing with lovely fish amid the beautiful coral hidden under the water.

Almost yearly, Zhou spends a few months traveling the world, seeking suitable places to dive and take underwater photos. In 2015, she finished her first underwater documentary, "Looking for Whale Shark." Her purpose for shooting the film was to raise public awareness of the need to protect sharks, endangered marine life and the ocean's environment.

"Three years ago, I met a coach from Russia who asked me if I knew Fuxian Lake (in Southwest China's Yunnan Province), and if I had considered exploring China's natural scenes and ancient architecture under the water," Zhou recalled. At that time, she was part of the team producing the 25-episode documentary, Dive the World. She began planning to shoot a documentary featuring the once-unknown world of "underwater China."

The Blue Planet, a documentary produced by British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), sets a fantastic example for documentaries featuring the ecological environment under the water. Countless viewers have been fascinated by the underwater world after they have watched The Blue Planet. When Zhou began shooting Underwater China, in 2017, she said she hoped the film would explore and present China's charm under the water.

Diving Across the Country: Chinese Woman Produces Documentary to Highlight 'Underwater China'
Zhou Fang, the documentary's chief director

 

Risking Her Life

The Underwater China film team had six members, two women and four men. Each member had at least 10 years of experience in taking underwater photos. Filming began in the summer of 2017.

The most challenging part of filming was diving into caves. Most of the caves had never been explored before. The crew had to find comparatively "safe routes" by themselves. "If an entrance to a cave was too narrow, we had to first put down our oxygen cylinders, throw the cylinders into the cave, and then we climbed into the cave and retrieve the cylinders," Zhou explains.

Zhou once risked her life when she was recording blind shrimp living in caves in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The shrimp are called "blind" because their eyesight has degenerated while living in a completely dark environment in the hot springs of the caves. Zhou and another woman were excited when they found the blind shrimp. Zhou followed the shrimp into a cave, without noticing the rope fastened on her body, which helped ensure she could return to a safe place, had accidentally dropped. She kicked her feet, with the fins, a few times, but was soon trapped in heavy sediment, which filled the cave. Zhou could not see anything. She tried very hard to move forward by touching the cave's inside walls. Later, she realized the way was blocked, which meant she was moving in the wrong direction. She kept calm and immediately turned back. She found the other photographer, and the two swam back and eventually returned to a safe place.

Despite taking a high risk, the crew was happy when they saw the video they had taken about blind shrimp. "It's a topic we featured at the risk of our lives," Zhou says.

Diving Across the Country: Chinese Woman Produces Documentary to Highlight 'Underwater China'
Zhou and her crew are working. 

 

Diving Across the Country: Chinese Woman Produces Documentary to Highlight 'Underwater China'
A shot of the documentary "Underwater China"

 

Astonishing the World

Zhou's crew has been to the Qiandao Lake (or the Thousand Island Lake), in East China's Zhejiang Province, to explore two towns submerged in water because a hydropower station was constructed in the province. To get a better understanding of the towns' original look, Zhou and her crew visited an elderly folk artist who used to live there. "The artist spent 10 years collecting clues from people who had lived in the towns. He drew a picture, which was like a map showing the old look of architecture and streets," Zhou says. The crew made a water-proof copy of the picture and took it when they explored the towns. Zhou was surprised to see parts of the old architecture remained, despite being hidden in the underwater world.

In Fuxian Lake, in Yunnan, the crew discovered an architectural complex, which encompassed 2.4 square kilometers. The complex included a mysterious, pyramid-like architecture, decorated with patterns and marks, the meanings of which have yet to be explained.

It took Zhou, and the crew, two years and seven months to visit 24 cities and complete the filming of Underwater China. The six-episode documentary became popular and received high praise after it was released on September 29, 2019. "I feel I am a lucky person, because I have spared no effort in producing this documentary to show the charm of my motherland under the water," Zhou says, proudly.

Diving Across the Country: Chinese Woman Produces Documentary to Highlight 'Underwater China'
Zhou's crew has been to the Qiandao Lake to explore two towns submerged in water because a hydropower station was constructed in the province.

 

Photos Supplied by Zhang Dongliang  

 

(Women of China English Monthly April 2020 issue)

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