A Young Patriot

- CHINA, FRANCE, USA / 2015 / Chinese / Color / Blu-ray / 106 min

Director: Du Haibin
Photography: Liu Aiguo
Editing: Mary Stephen
Sound: Delphine Ameil
Producer: Ben Tsiang
Production Company and World Sales: CNEX www.cnex.org.cn

Xiao Zhao is a high school student who lives in a small village in Shanxi Province. Furious with Japan’s “occupation” of the Diaoyu Islands, he dons a Mao suit, waves the Chinese flag, and yells patriotic slogans to much applause. But when he fails in his university exams and finds part-time work in a hotel, he encounters the politeness of Japanese tourists and is impressed, in spite of himself. Once accepted to university, he becomes active in the publicity office of the Communist Party’s Student Faction, and volunteers to teach Mandarin to children of minority ethnic groups. But when his grandparents’ house is destroyed in the name of redevelopment and he sees the corruption of local power lords, his feelings of patriotism begin to gradually change tone.

[Director’s Statement] As I was born in the 1970s, I find that I have become more and more unfamiliar with today’s young people, especially those born after 1990. It makes me, as a documentary filmmaker, restless.

In October of 2009, pure chance brought me together with Zhao Changtong, the protagonist of my film. He was holding high the national flag and expressing his passionate and intense patriotism on the streets of the ancient town of Pingyao, followed by a group of students. It was the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of New China, and many celebrations were going on nationwide.

For quite a while after that, Zhao’s image haunted my mind. I thought, maybe it is God’s will to let us meet and through him I can get to know today’s young people better. Therefore, I set off with my team again, and my filming ending up lasting for five years.

During those years, Zhao grew from a fanatical patriot to a mature undergraduate. He experienced his first love and breakup, received some honors at school, and suffered some losses. He went through meetings and partings with his family, and witnessed the demolition of their old house. We notice each minor change in Zhao, each time. Through him, I can clearly see myself, and learn first-hand the living conditions and thoughts of today’s young people.

However, I have to admit that on many occasions, before I could summarize and digest what I had seen, new feelings arose. These rendered me speechless. I don’t know if I’m just obtuse, or if this is in fact a kind of “new normalcy.”

During the same period of the shooting of this film, Chinese society has also undergone fundamental changes, and undercurrent surges. We, stuck in this, feel a deep powerlessness in ourselves, but also a nameless thrill too. Above all, I am lucky that I am able to use documentary to express certain specific feelings of mine.

- Du Haibin

Du Haibin was born in 1972 in Xi’an, in Shaanxi Province. He learned painting as a child, and in 1993 he began studying painting and photography at Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts. In 1998, he began working in documentary filmmaking and creative photography. He graduated with a degree in photography from the Beijing Film Academy in 2000. Du Haibin has made numerous feature documentaries and two fiction films. His 2000 Along the Railway won Special Mention at YIDFF 2001 New Asian Currents. Beautiful Men (2005) won Busan International Film Festival’s award for best documentary from Asia. 1428 (2009) won the Orizzonti Award for Best Documentary at the Venice International Film Festival. A Young Patriot won the Jury Prize at the Hong Kong International Film Festival.