China from behind the lens

Annual Looking China Youth Film Project has invited filmmakers from around the world to create short documentaries about Chinese culture. Fang Aiqing reports.

A group of young foreign filmmakers are taking an in-depth look at China through their camera lenses. Among them is Christian Grobbelaar, a young director from South Africa, whose short documentary Watch People unveils a remarkable tale of craftsmanship and redemption.

By repairing watches, Li Xin not only managed to fix the problems that lie behind the face of a wristwatch, but he's also fixed many of the problems in his own life as well.

With an array of delicate tools laid out on a blank sheet of paper on his table, the 25-year-old watch repairman begins to demonstrate the process of disassembly, cleaning, oiling and reassembly-an art that few people master now-while telling the story of the many twists and turns in his life.

After experiencing his parents' divorce, the once well-behaved student fell into bad company and rebelliously turned to a life of smoking, drinking and fighting.

During one particularly fierce fight 10 years ago, Li was stabbed twice. One blow pierced his lung while the other permanently damaged his central nervous system. As a result, he ended up crippled, and was forced to rely on crutches for the rest of his life.

Idling at home for several years, Li's life seemed to be doomed until he found a job at the time-honored Sheng Chang Watch Shop in Xiamen, East China's Fujian province, where traditional watch repair skills are passed on to the disabled.

"When it comes to fixing a watch, you will be faced with a variety of problems. The hardest ones to tackle are the problems you cannot see with your eyes, because they hid very deep. But we still always manage to find a way to fix them," Li says.

Grobbelaar's short documentary applies montage techniques and uses puns in both the title of the work and throughout the story.

As the story "unfolds in an artistic way and combines craftsmanship with humanity", the work was awarded first prize and best artistic presentation at the fourth Golden Lenses awards held recently by Beijing Normal University.

The award aims to reward excellent works from BNU's Looking China Youth Film Project, which annually invites young filmmakers from around the globe to China to experience Chinese culture and, with one-on-one help from a Chinese volunteer, create a 10-minute short documentary about Chinese culture.