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Family documentary offers window into ordinary Shanghai life

By Zheng Zheng in Shanghai | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2024-05-16 15:39

A scene in The Story of the Wang Family. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The Story of the Wang Family, a family documentary that tells the story of an ordinary Shanghai household through a narrative journey that spans almost a century, made its premiere on Wednesday.

The film's subjects and narrators are the director Jiang Weimin's mother and her six siblings, averaging 77 years old. From childhood memories, education journeys, career paths and marriages, to residential relocations — the details of their life stories are shared, reflecting how the era's shifts impacted individual destinies.

The film opens with a long take of the family's annual Chinese New Year reunion dinner, with the seven elders introducing themselves in turn."For this family documentary, establishing the subjects' core backgrounds was crucial," Jiang explained. "This seemingly staged shot is actually very special, setting the tone for the oral history style while clearly presenting each person's identity."

Shanghai dialect is abundantly used in the series. "It was a natural choice for the language," Jiang said. "This group has spoken Shanghainese all their lives. If I had them narrate in Mandarin, I may not have captured any truly vivid stories."

Jiang chose the most basic timeline structure and a direct storytelling approach for the editing process. According to Jiang, the series starts with the classic "once upon a time" fairy tale opening, then lets the narrative flow to make it simple to understand.

Poster of The Story of the Wang Family. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"I'm glad to have fulfilled my plan, the entire family has seen the documentary," Jiang said, adding that his mother was most emotionally moved, crying heavily during the screening. Even the younger generation welled up.

"The film is very simple in its presentation," Jiang said, "but perhaps it was the realism and sincerity that struck an emotional chord with viewers sharing the same era and life experience in the city."

"My idea was that a family documentary need not be a grand sweeping narrative. I'd like to depict the relevant era backdrop for this particular family, keeping the profound yet ordinary human experiences as the vital focus. The societal turbulence of the era and this family's fate formed two dynamically intersecting curves, sometimes running parallel, sometimes crossing," according to Jiang.

The documentary series, jointly produced with the Shanghai Media Group's Documentary Center, premiered on DocuTV on May 15, with a simultaneous release across IPTV, internet TV and various cable platforms.

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