11 out of 1.3 billion

Interview with David

The idea for this documentary came from the guys that I make this film with. Their company (About Asia) was working for a Dutch premier league football club, for which they analyzed the world of Chinese football. They told me about the people they met and the stories these people told them about how culture and politics are involved. I made a film “Urbanisation in China” in 2010. It was the first time I visited China, but I became addicted to the country straight away. Anyway, the guys had seen my film and thought it would be a great idea to apply it to football as well. I am not the largest football fan myself, but when they shared all the background stories I was immediately convinced. The question is so intriguing: Why can’t this big country make a good team?
We have done a lot of research of course. The book “Bamboo goalposts” from Rowan Simmons gives a good insight into Chinese football history. We had the impression that Chinese fans just liked foreign football. The first match we filmed was Shanghai versus Manchester United, and there were way more Manchester shirts to be seen. But then the Shenhua bus arrived and everybody cheered for them as well. There many fans, maybe not on the scale we have in the west, but with the same passion!
Absolutely. There has been such a shake up over past two years. It feels a bit strange to see Anelka and Drogba here, which raises many interesting questions. Are they here just for the money, are there many other to follow, do Chinese players learn a lot from having one or two famous foreign players in their team?
Our base for the film is Shanghai, but we have filmed in Hangzhou, Guangzhou and, in the pouring rain, Beijing. More cities will follow. In Beijing it rained so much we were afraid the camera would give up. But the documentary is not about showing or analyzing matches. We want to make a film that is also interesting for people who like China, as a country, the culture, but are not particularly interested in football.
Besides football we want to show contemporary China. Many people in Europe still see China as The Great Wall, Forbidden City and Chinese food. As for sport, we know the country from the burst of excellent performers at the Olympics. But there is not much attention in the media for normal citizens, what they do daily, what differences and similarities there are between them. It is not our goal to convince people of certain ideas or send out a particular message. We do want to show things that people can’t easily see themselves. We film it, and the viewers can make up their own mind about what they saw. We feel that the combination of football and Chinese society can be a surprisingly interesting topic for many viewers around the world.
Sure. Take Xie Hui, he is a well know football personality and has interesting and critical views on the status of Chinese football. In addition, interesting for Dutch viewers as well, we interviewed former head of the Chinese national team Arie Haan. Danish ex-international Ebbe Sand participates too; he started a Shanghai football academy to improve youth training, just like Xie Hui. However, the film is certainly not just about star players or important people. Football fans themselves have a big role as well. We are still looking to film and follow some extremely passionate Beijing, Guangzhou or Shanghai fans, the type who would die for their team. We are happy to hear from them if they read this.
Well, one day we were had travelled for over 4 hours to film at the football museum in Linzi, only to find out that our camera was not working properly. We couldn’t find any video or electronics stores anywhere nearby. Finally in our search for a replacement camera, we ended up in a wedding boutique, which let us rent a camera that was usually only used for filming wedding ceremonies. In the end it was a great solution and we had a good shooting day. As for the highlight, we always hope that is yet to come. So far, we are quite chuffed by what we have done, but we are always looking for even better highlights, it is what keeps us going. We still have a couple a weeks of filming to do in 2013, and we are hoping for a spectacular beginning of the new season.
Of course, this is never easy. We are not the BBC, yet till now by convincing people we are a friendly crew and have no intention of painting a dark picture most of them are happy to cooperate with us. We would love to talk to Shenhua ‘owner’ Zhu Jun, but that seems to be difficult. Hopefully it will work out in a few months when we are back in China to finish the shooting.
We think that if the China as a country really wants something, it will happen. So reaching the top level in football should be possible. Players with rising salaries have to keep in mind to look further than personal benefit, it is teamwork, you can’t all be top scorer in a good team. Further development will take many years and people in high (government) positions must really support it for the love of sport, and not for their personal interests. It is interesting to see that when you ask fans about the high salary of Drogba, they all say he’s worth his money because it’s great to see his skills. Then, when you ask the same fans what should be done to raise the level of Chinese football, they say that clubs should invest more in the education of young Chinese players. For now it seems to be hard for clubs to choose for the long term investments. Also it would be great if more kids get a chance to play freely after school, it doesn’t matter if it is football or some other sport or art. They should play more, not to become the best, but just to have fun. Some of those kids will discover an amazing talent that would have remained hidden otherwise. But all the kids, talented or not, will have a good time and discover things about themselves.
It will show enthusiasm, spirit, all presented in a way that is entertaining and educational for football lovers and non-football lovers alike. It is the world’s first film, and a truly unique view on the contemporary Chinese world (of football).