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Dragon boat through the lens of an international documentary director | Nastia Tarasova's 'touch' of old and new China in short film

Imagine people going to a foreign country. How would they perceive a traditional custom that they have never heard of or seen before? Will it be a story of typical culture shock, in which foreigners are either amazed by the beauty of another culture or shocked by its bizarreness?

In a one-minute short film about dragon boat race, Tarasova presented the Chinese tradition with neither of these approaches, but rather with the sensitivity and philosophical thinking of an artist. Given only about two hours to shoot, she managed to grasp how old tradition, new technologies, and eternalness aspect intertwine with each other in contemporary China, going beyond the surface of people's daily activities.

As an award-winning documentary director and founding member of the Moscow International Documentary Festival, Tarasova joined a survey trip to Guangdong in early June together with a group of international documentarists from the Belt and Road Initiative Documentary Consortium.

Curious about how the dragon boat race could be presented through the lens of a documentarist, GDToday invited Tarasova to film some clips of the dragon boat race that she watched in Haizhu Wetland. She later edited these clips together with some others shot during her stay in Guangzhou, creating a one-minute short film called "The Touch".

"The Touch" does not have any protagonists, lines, or voiceover. Instead, Tarasova used people's hands as the key element of her visual language.

The film showcased different hands: hands hanging over the handrails of a shuttle bus and a cruise ship, a father's hands patting his daughter, and hands holding the dragon boats and paddles for competition...

As the competition intensified in the film, Tarasova cleverly switched between several clips showing people's hands engaging in different types of boating. While the dragon boat racers in Haizhu Wetland paddled hard to compete, a captain effortlessly controlled his engine-powered cruise ship with just a few turns of the steering wheel. Interestingly, someone was also seen playing a digital dragon boat racing game, using their finger to scroll on the screen. By comparing these three ways of boating, Tarasova showed the audience how technology has changed the roles that our hands play nowadays.

This idea was further explored through Tarasova's choice of the Cantonese folk song "Dragon Boat Race" as the background music and a scene featuring machine hands playing traditional Chinese folk music instruments.

In an interview with GDToday, Tarasova said that besides depicting the contrast between the old and the new, or the traditional and modern China, she also wanted to capture something eternal that can be done or expressed with our hands. Luckily, she found it in scenes of a father patting his little daughter and a little girl learning how to put her "baby" to bed in a game using her hands.

Planner | Hu Nan, Chen Siyuan

Coordinator | Chen Siyuan

Reporter | Chen Siyuan

Poster | Lulu

Film Shooting | Nastia Tarasova

Film Editing | Nastia Tarasova

Editor | Olivia, Nick, James

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