Kite Zhang's Kites - a documentary of Mechanical Kites
Kite Zhang's Kites - a documentary of Mechanical Kites
Zhang has invented and been creating Mechanical Kites, but this unique art form is fading away due to the lack of attention in society.
Zhang has invented and been creating Mechanical Kites, but this unique art form is fading away due to the lack of attention in society. Read more
What is it?
Kite Zhang’s Kites is a feature documentary about a unique Chinese art form, Mechanical Kites, created by kite maker Zhang Tianwei. After two months of filming and a long period of editing, I'm close to a completion of this journey endeavors to save this art form from the edge of extinction.
Zhang has invented Mechanical Kites by combining his expertise knowledge in Chinese traditional kite making and modern mechanical knowledge. Zhang’s Mechanical Kites have been certified as a national intangible heritage and Zhang has been known as a national treasure artist. However, this national treasure of China is on the edge of extinction. Zhang is 77 years old today, but no one is willing to spend some effort and carry on this art form with him. The last wish of this old man is to find someone who can inherit this unique art form.
Zhang is a very wise and interesting character. With his landlord family background, he has lived through a very complicated time in China. In the 1960s kites and kite-flying were banned in China, but Zhang remained very passionate about his kites. After retiring from his mechanical engineering job in the 90s, he stayed at home and devoted the rest of his life to the creation of kinetic kites. Zhang has been making Mechanical Kites for almost thirty years and all of these kites work on wind power, which Zhang insists should be the only power for kites, because the Chinese word for ‘kite’ includes the character for ‘wind’. Some of these Mechanical Kites have been purchased by foreign collectors, most of them are kept in the local Intangible Heritage Museum.
Zhang's most famous kite work “Bronze Chariot and Horse” has been known as the most complicated kite in China. The piece has over 2000 joints and used 920 bamboo sticks in total. Most of the materials he uses are recycled, including plastics, paper, aluminum cans and reused wood from pencils. The tail part of this kite is 48 meters long, and consists of 192 terracotta warriors.
In this documentary, I interviewed Zhang, his friends, his family and some young Chinese college students. I asked their opinions about Zhang’s Mechanical Kites and it was fascinating to find out that people from different age groups and different social backgrounds have such different ideas about intangible heritage. Through this documentary, I wish to raise attention to the value and importance of protecting intangible heritage and traditional culture.
The Back Story...
Through my travels in China, I have noticed that many cultural traditions, art forms and values are fading away in this country. I felt the need to create a documentary, which would raise attention to people, not only in China, but all around the world, about the importance of inheriting intangible heritage. Due to my very low budget, I planned the documentary to be centered on one artist with an art form that might disappear in a few more years. I want to understand what artists are going through in modern Chinese society and the reasons that might be causing the loss of the art forms. I have visited numerous museums and interviewed several artists and intangible heritage workers before I met Zhang. Zhang was fully open to my interviews and documentary idea, he feels an urgent need to find a proper apprentice who is willing to carry on his work. We met and started the shootings in 2013 July.
In regards to funding, so far I have paid for all the expenses incurred for my research work and filming in China with personal savings and some support from my family. During the second half of the shootings, Zhang has been very generous and let me live in his kite making studio. He also invited me to his family meals where I got to hang out with his family. I felt very warmly welcomed by his family and had a better chance to film his daily life. After a long period of rough editing the film is finally coming to shape. I returned to China in May 2014, to re-film some missing footage which was lost due to damage to my hard-drive. This film is now coming to the final post-production stage and I’ve found it difficult to continue the project on my own. I have reached out for help from my friends, but as yet, this has not been enough. I am also planning on a third shooting trip to China for this project. I would like to get a few more shots done, which I believe will really lift the quality of the whole film.
The Post Production
The major difficulties I’m facing in post-production are, firstly, in the final editing, color-grading, and Foley sound. Also, the film is in Chinese and that makes it very challenging for detailed fine tuning. Zhang often uses a local folk language mixed with non-standard Mandarin, which makes it hard for me to understand the actual meaning of his words, and as well, he often uses professional terms while describing his work. This brings us to the second major difficulty. I am looking for a professional translator who can communicate with me while I’m editing, and also translate the final film. As an Australian born Chinese, my proficiency in Mandarin is far from enough to translate this work. While many friends have been helping me out, the final translation still needs a professional. The third difficulty is with the musical score. In order to keep the Chinese taste of this film, I am looking for scores played with a very ancient Chinese instrument, the Guchin. The art of Guchin is also a traditional Chinese cultural heritage, which is on the edge of extinction. Very few people in China can play this ancient instrument today and even fewer musicians can play it with expertise. I believe music tells a story in a different kind way. Therefore, I see the music component as crucial in completing the film.
I started the shooting of this film with very poor equipment; one DSLR camera, one 35mm lens and one iPhone4 for sound recording. A local friend heard about this project and tried to help me, offering free meals and some camera lenses and tripods to borrow. It was also great that the head of Xi’an Intangible Heritage Office accepted to be interviewed for this project, and his views on the governmental position on cultural heritage fading away have provided balance to the film. A teaser of this film has been out for over a year, and has prompted many encouraging emails from people who have lots of childhood memories of kites, people who are very interested in Chinese folk culture, and they are all looking forward to this film. Many people have shown interest in the content of this film. I have also received a message from a UK professor seeking permission to screen this documentary in their university when it's released.
I am very grateful to have many Chinese friends helping me through my journey, who care about protecting their intangible heritage. With great expectation comes great responsibility. I am no longer struggling as the sole producer/director with just one DSLR and one camera lens; the project has now begun to really take shape, with many other people on board. I now want to polish this film and make it as good as I can. I'm here asking for your help to make it shine. If I am able to reach the goal, I will be able to pay for another filming trip in China. There are still many shots that I would like to take and add in the film in order to make it better. With your help, I can finish this film by the end of this year (2015), and hopefully Zhang can find an excellent apprentice who is willing to study with him after watching this film.
$10 – A sincere thank you for helping.
$25 - An HD viewing of the film.
$35 - Above + A long Q&A session about travelling in China. (I know all the tricks!)
$45 - Above + A Postcard with photos of Zhang’s Kite.
$65 – Above + A Poster.
$95 - Above + A DVD copy of the film.
$185 - Above + A high quality t-shirt with Chinese calligraphy.
$595 - Above + An intangible heritage souvenir from China. (Personally picked)
$2,500 - Above + Your name in the credits. (As Special thanks to)
$6,000 – Above + I would introduce you to Zhang and a private guide through Xi’an.
$7,500 – Above + “Backer Producer” credit in the film.
Note: In my previous filming trips, I went kite flying with Zhang several times. However, Xi'an is a city with very gentle wind, which is very hard for Zhang's kites to fly. His kites usually need at least level 3 wind power. I am planning on a kite flying trip with Zhang and his grandson to Weifang, a very famous kite city in China, where the annual Weifang International Kite Flying Competition is hosted. I would be able to get much better footage of his kites in the sky if we're able to make the trip.
Risks and challenges
Most of the risks and challenges I have faced throughout the project are centered around funding. Working as a one-man-team has really required a lot of help from others. I was very fortunate to meet many kind people. Zhang’s generosity has also helped me out so much. However, in the future, my major challenge is still funding, I need your help to carry this project to its completion. Another big challenge is getting the musical score finalized. I have reached out for help in the Guchin community and Chinese folk music community, and connected with some musicians, but we will need to meet in person before going any further. One Guchin artist, Guan, has allowed me to use one of his tracks, which can be appreciated in the teaser. I already have a few options for a translator, but the final decision depends mostly on budget. In the end, this project was never made for profit. I wish to raise attention for culture heritage and Zhang’s kites. Whether this project reaches the goal or not, I would like to thank everyone in the Kickstarter community who is willing to help.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (35 days)