Documentary Profiles Shenzhen's Van Goghs

By Bailey Hu, February 24, 2018

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Today marks yet another international screening of the documentary China's Van Goghs, a fascinating look at the small 'oil painting village' in Shenzhen – Dafen – known for mass producing classics for bargain prices.

The movie, released in 2016, focuses on the artistic journey of Zhao Xiaoyong, whose crew had made around 100,000 copies of various Van Gogh works at the time of filming.

But Zhao is far from a soulless automaton. His attention to detail, pointing out minor brushstroke mistakes with ease, is impressive, and he identifies with the artist due to Van Gogh's focus on the rural. Zhao himself was a farmer before he turned to painting.

china-s-van-goghs-eating-yu-haibo-copy.jpgchina-s-van-goghs-sleeping-yu-haibo-copy.jpgchina-s-van-goghs-painters-yu-haibo-copy.jpgchina-s-van-goghs-portrait-yu-haibo-copy.jpgStills from the movie

When he finally gets a chance to see Van Gogh's works in person, Zhao is visibly moved. And, in a strange twist of globalization, he spots his own replicas on sale in Amsterdam, retailing for much higher prices than he commands in China.

The 80-minute documentary was a collaboration between Shenzhen-based filmmaker Yu Haibo and his daughter Kiki Tianqi Yu, a lecturer of filmmaking in Scotland. Together, they co-directed the piece in order to convey a "human story of challenge and struggle... emblematic of the journey that China is going through from ‘made in China’ to ‘created in China.’"

Their achievement has been recognized by various awards at festivals in Beijing, Guangzhou and Los Angeles, and the documentary has been screened at many more. Most recently, the British Film Institute in London chose to show the film today in honor of the Chinese New Year.

Watch a 10 minute trailer below (VPN off):

Not in China? See a shorter trailer on Vimeo.

Learn more about China's Van Goghs on the official website.

READ MORE: Daytripper: Dafen Oil Painting Village

[Images via Yu Haibo]

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