Swimming Out Till The Sea Turns Blue

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Jia Zhangke’s first doc in ten years explores modern Chinese history by interweaving literature and reality.


Country: China
Year: 2020
Director: Jia Zhangke
Running time: 112 mins
Language: In Mandarin with EST
Film type: Documentary

The latest film from Chinese master Jia Zhangke is a deeply poetic documentary, his first in ten years, charting the history of the Chinese people since 1949 in an 18-part symphony. Shot against the backdrop of a village literature festival in Shanxi, Jia’s own home province, the film follows a gathering of prominent writers and scholars from around China, with three important novelists born in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s telling their own stories and interweaving literature and reality, creating a fascinating spiritual history.

Ten years after his last documentary I Wish I Knew (screened in Un Certain Regard, Cannes 2011) Jia Zhangke returns to non-fiction with Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue, the final entry in his trilogy about the arts in China. It follows Venice winners Dong (2006), and Useless (2007).








About Jia Zhangke

Jia Zhang Ke was born in Fenyang, Shanxi, in 1970 and graduated from Beijing Film Academy. His debut feature Xiao Wu won prizes in Berlin, Vancouver and elsewhere. Since then, his films have routinely premiered in the major European festivals. Still Life won the Golden Lion in Venice in 2006, A Touch Of Sin won the Best Screenplay prize in Cannes in 2013 and Mountains May Depart and Ash is Purest White were in competition in Cannes in 2015 and 2018. Several of his films have blurred the lines between fiction and documentary.


Selected filmography

Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue (2020)
Ash Is Purest White (2018)
Mountains May Depart (2015)
A Touch of Sin (2015)
24 City (2008)
Useless (2007)
Still Life (2006)
Dong (2006)
The World (2004)
Unknown Pleasures (2002)
Platform (2000)
Xiao Wu (1997)
Xiaoshan Going Home (1995)


Director’s Statement:

“After making Dong (2006, about the painter Liu Xiaodong) and Useless (2007, about the fashion designer Ma Ke), I wanted to make a documentary about Chinese writers. It is not that I have a thing about trilogies. It’s more that as a reader, I’ve always had great respect for the writers who strive to keep abreast of the fast-changing world, sometimes under extremely difficult circumstances.

“When I discovered that a village in my native province Shanxi was host to a major literary festival, I wanted to see it for myself. (The place is named Jia Family Village, but it has no direct connection with my own family.) Our starting point was to film at the festival, and we soon realized that we were experiencing not only a journey in contemporary Chinese literature but also a journey into the spiritual history of the Chinese people. Beyond the literary talk, an unexpected new protagonist for the film somehow appeared: the peasantry who inhabit China’s vast hinterlands. The writers in the film tell their own stories, the kind of stories that weigh on the minds of most Chinese people.

“I wanted the images to look dignified, almost sculptural, and the 18 chapters to be structured as casually as flowing clouds. The people in this country are living lives like rivers leading to the sea, travelling with heavy loads, towards somewhere blue and clear in the distance.

“Their journeys are very similar, but each footprint deserves to be remembered.”




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July 24, 2021
2:00 pm
NFT3 | BFI Southbank

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