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Thursday, December 06, 2018, 12:06
Sky's the limit for popular landscape documentary
By Xu Fan
Thursday, December 06, 2018, 12:06 By Xu Fan

The second season of the documentary series China From Above features a group of climbers collecting rubbish at the northern base camp of Qomolangma. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Apart from the occasional trip by an airplane, few people get the chance to admire China's magnificent landscapes with a bird's-eye view.

Other than attempting to obtain a pilot's license, or spending a fortune on plane tickets, perhaps a more economical alternative would be to just watch China From Above, a documentary series that mainly uses aerial shots to capture the country's mountains, rivers, cities and its people.

For domestic audiences, the two-episode second season of the show has been available on the streaming site, Bilibili, since Nov 10, and accumulated nearly 1.3 million "clicks" as of Wednesday.

As a joint production by companies from China, the United States, New Zealand and Singapore, season two also premiered on the National Geographic Channel on Nov 10, with the second episode airing the following day.

The first episode travels along China's 18,000-kilometer-long coastline, the fourth longest in the world, exploring its diverse environments, from the frigid Bohai Bay in the north to Hainan island in the far tropical south.

Shifting to a somewhat west-to-east route, the second episode embarks on a journey from the Himalayas to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, taking in multiple cities, including Chongqing and Wuhan, along the way, before finally reaching the bustling metropolis of Shanghai.

Sky's the limit for popular landscape documentary

"China is a country of immense contrasts. While most Westerners have a very set idea of China, we wanted to surprise and intrigue them by showcasing the diversity of Chinese people and landscapes beyond the Great Wall," says Kyle Murdoch, managing director of NHNZ Ltd.

Based in Dunedin in New Zealand, NHNZ is one of the show's producers, which also includes China Intercontinental Communication Center, US-based National Geographic and Beach House Pictures in Singapore.

Murdoch reveals the idea to shoot China from the sky first came about in 2012.

"Back then, drones were not as widely available as they are today - so this was a very ambitious undertaking as we'd need to shoot mostly from helicopters," he recalls.

"It's unique because while many people could record from the air in many other countries around the world, the regulations permitting this in China make it very difficult for just anyone to do," adds Murdoch.

The first season achieved huge popularity. It became the most-watched online documentary in China in 2015, winning more than 10 awards and being broadcast to more than 170 countries and regions.

Now, with more advanced technology, the second season uses video camera drones with 4k ultra high definition resolution, allowing much clearer and sharper images as they follow moving objects from above.

However, it's not just a collection of picturesque scenes. The camera lens also comes down to earth to tell the emotional and interesting stories of the people below, says Wang Yuanyuan, director of the film and television production center with CICC.

"China's documentary-making industry has improved in recent years. We've learned a lot from our foreign partners," she adds.

In the first episode, the show covers the story of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, China's first major combined bridge and tunnel sea-crossing project. The crew interviewed a surveyor, who left home shortly after getting married and could only see his wife once or twice a year over the course of the seven-year construction.

In some other stories, a 61-year-old woman leads a team in a swimming competition to cross the Yangtze River in Wuhan, and we see an archery challenge that dates back more than 80 years take place in a Tibetan valley.

In the second episode, for instance, a group of climbers, instead of taking their last chance to mount an attempt on the world's highest peak, choose to remain at the northern base camp of Qomolangma, or Mount Everest, along with some 150 yaks, to clean up and collect rubbish and equipment left on the route.

"Every time we produce a film about China, we learn something new. There is so much to discover, uncover and share about this incredible country," says Murdoch.


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