25 years ago, American author Bill Porter (a.k.a. Red Pine) went to the Zhongnan Mountains to seek out modern Chinese hermits. His resulting book, Road to Heaven, was a touchstone for many westerners wondering what remained of Buddhist and Daoist asceticism in China. Now, for the first time, Bill Porter revisits Zhongnan to seek out those who seek from within, living quiet lives of deep devotion in some of the world's most stunning locales.
It took the crew 3 years and 14 visits deep into the mountains to accomplish this film. The whole film was shot on DSLR camera with prime lens and fixed camera positions. To avoid dramatic effects, the film has no zooming, no panning, no artificial lighting, no voice-over, no music. It was made as a low budget filming to reveal the simple and peaceful way of the hermit’s life.
Bill PorterKey Cast
Project Title (Original Language):隐士
Film Type:Documentary, Feature
Runtime:1 hour 26 minutes 28 seconds
Completion Date:April 1, 2015
Production Budget:92,000 USD
Country of Origin:China
Country of Filming:China
Shooting Format:Canon EOS 5DII Digital SLR
15th International Buddhist Film FestivalSan Francisco Bay Area
April 11, 2015
6th DOCUTAH International Documentary Film FestivalSt. George, USA
September 9, 2015
10th Buddhist Film Festival EuropeAmsterdam, The Netherlands
October 4, 2015
9th Tel Aviv SPIRIT Film FestivalTel Aviv, Israel
October 24, 2015
9th Alexandria Film FestivalAlexandria, USA
November 6, 2015
13th International Gold Panda Documentary FestivalChengdu, China
November 8, 2015
Best Director Nomination on Anthropology
2015 Spotlight Documentary Film AwardsAtlanta, USA
December 23, 2015
22nd Victoria Film FestivalVictoria, Canada
February 10, 2016
3rd International Documentary Festival of Ierapetra AwardsIerapetra
August 8, 2016
April 15, 2017
2017 Golden Tree International Documentary Film FestivalFrankfurt
September 9, 2017
Special Jury Prize
Mr. He Shiping is the President of Emei Film Studio. His first science and education TV program Decryption: 5/12 Earthquake won 2009 (10th) Sichuan TV Festival International “Gold Panda” Awards for Best Director and Best Science & Education Program. In 2010, he co-produced Let the Bullets Fly with acclaimed chinese actor and director Jiang Wen. His first documentary feature is Hermits, which was based on a selling book by American writer Bill Porter.
It took us 3 years and 14 trips to Zhongnan Mountains to accomplish this documentary. It was difficult to communicate with the hermits. Our requests for interview were mostly rejected, but when some of them agreed, we got the precious opportunities. Due to our humbleness, sincereness and patience, about ten hermits finally agreed to be filmed and might be willing to have further communication with us. Unfortunately, our author/leading character--Bill Porter was only allowed to stay in China for a short while this time. However, with three years’ hard work and preparation, we’re quite ready for the revisit.
1. Zen. Everything moves except the camera position. The dynamic state of men, wind, water, birds, grass and trees contrasts with the static state of the camera. No zoom shots, no pans and tilts, no dolly or crane shots. The balance of composition is pursued, with the steady scenes to reveal inner peace and quietness.
2. Humility. For shooting the hermits, we adopt only low angle and the static camera position. The camera should be no higher than the cameramen’s heads when they are shooting on their knees. We do our best to avoid the disrespectful high angle shots, and while shooting the conversations between Bill Porter and the hermits, the cameramen step back or leave the scene once the camera is set and rolling.
3. Moderation. We use mainly medium shots for shooting characters instead of close-ups, so as to avoid the dramatic effects. The frames of interior shots and exterior shots of dialogues are limited to one zhang (c. 3.333 meters) wide, symbolizing Fang Zhang (square zhang, or 11 1/9 m2), as in “The room of one square zhang can contain all.” in Vimalakirti Sutra. Static camera position is required for the scenes of people sitting in meditation, apprehending the doctrines, practicing martial arts, living, etc. Following shot or other kinds of moving camera shots are prevented.
4. Selection. The unnecessary gorgeous scenery is left out. Just the simple life of the hermits is filmed. This documentary is to show both the elegant, poetic, leisurely and carefree aspects, and the impoverished, choice-less, agonizing, and sometimes dirty sides of the hermits’ life.
5. Micro-Budget. Total cost is under $92k(€65k). To reveal a way of low budget life, we adopt a way of low budget shooting. Instead of professional movie cameras, we shoot the whole documentary with Canon EOS 5D Mark II, using only prime lens and telephoto lens.
6. Keeping it natural. Absolutely no props, setting, or artificial lighting are added. Everything you see is the actual living condition of the hermits.
7. Simplicity. During post-production, no special effects -- fade-in, fade-out, dissolve or blank screen -- are added. Scenes are directly connected by the footages of Bill Porter’s journey.
8. Silence. There may be awkward situations when the hermits refuse to let our crews in, or are not willing to talk with us, which, however, lead to precious scenes that definitely need to be captured. Moreover, we let such shots last, in order to brew interesting and profound impression.
9. Slowness. Slowness is the rhythm of the hermits’ life, and the style of this documentary. Bill Porter is required to speak slowly, as he’s thinking. The hermits talk slowly, with pauses, or even sit in silence from time to time. In addition, streams in the documentary are slow and soft ripple instead of water pouring down.
10. Vitality. We do not peruse intentional vitality so as to get rid of the tediousness. In fact, the spontaneous self-mockery and movement are of vivid eastern wisdom and humor. Besides, Bill Porter’s body language is vivid enough.
11. Quietness. No score. No narration. Only the hermits and Bill Porter’s sound recorded on location, with occasional birds’ chirping, dogs’ barking and water babbling.
12. Freedom. We did not direct any of Bill Porter’s topics.
13. Fast. After going into the mountain, our crews were forbidden to have alcoholic drinks, meats, scallion, or garlic.
January 14th, 2015