The documentary film China's Van Goghs tells the story of Zhao Xiaoyong (center), who is among skilled painters in a village in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, who are known for making perfect replicas of Western works of art. (YU HAIBO / FOR CHINA DAILY)
A documentary that tells the story of Chinese artists in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, who paint perfect copies of great Western works of art, will be shown at the British Film Institute in London on Saturday, in celebration of Chinese New Year.
The documentary, China's Van Goghs, follows Chinese peasant-turned-oil painter Zhao Xiaoyong. He and his family have produced hundreds of thousands of copies of Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh's works, including Sunflowers, The Starry Night and Self-Portrait With Bandaged Ear.
Produced and directed by Yu Tianqi along with her father, Yu Haibo, the film gives a glimpse into Zhao's life as a skilled painter of replicas, his obsession with Van Gogh and his dream trip to see the real paintings at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam — which is home to one of Zhao's best clients.
"I found the documentary a fascinating and moving portrait of a craftsman who aspires to be an artist," said David Somerset, education programmer and curator at BFI Southbank.
"I particularly enjoyed the account of his journey to Europe, in which he overcomes disillusionment (meeting the buyer of his pictures) to renew and strengthen his passion for the artist Vincent van Gogh, but also his own determination to develop as an artist."
Most of the documentary takes place in Dafen village of Shenzhen. In Dafen, the country's largest oil-painting village, hundreds of self-taught painters churn out copies of famous Western art. In 2015, the turnover in painting sales was more than million.
"It was a moving and inspiring film which humanized such enormous endeavor across the world, but especially China. We know about the enormous production of such regions, but we rarely get a glimpse of the actual people behind the work," Somerset said.
Yu Tianqi, who is also a filmmaking lecturer at the University of the West of Scotland, said China's Van Goghs tells a story of the "challenge and struggle emblematic of the journey that China has taken in recent years".
China's Van Goghs has won several international awards, including best feature documentary at the Beijing International Festival and best director at the Skip City International D-Cinema Festival in Japan.
The film has also been shown at 15 film festivals in other countries.
"Dafen has put itself on the map by creating artwork that is almost an exact copy of the renowned masterpieces sold across the world, highlighting the level of skill among its painters," Yu said.
"My father and I are passionate about showcasing their story, and with the help of awards, and the film being shown at film festivals across the globe, hopefully we can achieve this."