Langfang is one of the most air-polluted cities in China, but the intractable problem remains as to who will pick up the tab when it comes to eliminating pollution?
Han Meng’s Smog Town focusses on the work of the local environmental protection bureau, where deputy chief Li and his assistant Hu have to work extremely hard to resolve the issue, continually appeasing the interests (and meet the needs) of government, industry, workers and the general public.
Dutch co-producer Jia Scheffer came across the project at CCDF (Taipei) back in 2016. At first she wasn’t so interested as the focus was almost exclusively on the character of Li, ostensibly a politician, but as the focus widened out to address all sides of the dilemma, her interest was piqued.
“Two years later in 2018 at DMZ Docs I met Vincent Du the producer again. Even though I do not live in China anymore, I know that my friends and family are dealing with smog every day. So for me, it is not only an abstract ‘understanding’ but a burning issue at a personal level as well. Also I would like to see a story that tells the complexity of the smog issue in China, a densely populated country where the stunning economy growth has been going on for over thirty years.”
Scheffer underlines how, after five packed screenings, some audience members approached her to express their surprise at the sheer complexity of the smog issue in China, and that it was “an insightful film.”
“Not so many people understand or have the chance to go in that deep and to see how complex this subject really is, and what are the layers of this smog problem. It is very valuable for the audience to see it in this context and to understand more.”
Scheffer’s other reason to get involved was more on the technical/aesthetic side of things. “As a producer with an Asian background living in Europe, I witness an expertise in Europe which can be of great use in delivering an important story in a professional way to the world,’ she says.
“What I brought from Europe was excellent editing and sound design. These two are essential for me.”
“Han’s background as an experienced journalist results in sharp observations of characters and events in the film,” Scheffer continues. “But the editor [Barbara Hin] had a very objective standpoint towards the whole thing. She starts only with what she sees, and the process turned out to be very rewarding, intensive and intimate between the director, the editor and the producer.”
The director came to the Netherlands with her one and half-year-old child to be with editor Hin during the edit. “It was hard, and also a lot of cultural differences had to be bridged, but it was a very valuable experience for Han. She is now thinking seriously of doing that again for her new project, whatever that is going to be, just to involve a great editor to look at her story and to present it in the right way.”