Across China: Rural projectionist lights up villages with silver screen

Source: Xinhua| 2020-09-30 18:46:52|Editor: huaxia

HEFEI, Sept. 30 (Xinhua) -- When night falls, rural projectionist Wan Li can be seen setting up a curtain and stereo, debugging a projector, and preparing to screen a film to audiences in a remote village.

"Villagers now finish their dinners late in the busy farming season, so I delay show times accordingly," said 57-year-old Wan, from Guzhen County in east China's Anhui Province.

A cinephile since childhood, Wan fulfilled his dream to become a projectionist at the age of 18 and has now been devoted to screening movies at his "mobile cinema" for 39 years, showing over 10,000 films in that time.

"It was not easy to see a movie when I was a child. Every time I heard a movie would be screened in a village, I would walk there even it was far away from my home," Wan said, adding that he was fascinated by the magic of the silver screen.

Back then, watching an outdoor movie was the best entertainment option for Chinese villagers, since most did not have access to electricity, let alone televisions or DVDs.

Wan recalls his first movie screening with fondness. "Over 2,000 people flocked to see the film, and many came two hours in advance with stools so they could get a good seat. I felt so proud to be a projectionist then," he said.

Around 1980, villages and towns across China established film teams, each with two or three projectionists. They were tasked with promoting culture and agricultural science among the country's rural population. Village administrations bore the costs so that movies would be free of charge for viewers.

Wan's film team consisted of himself and Zou Xiaohong. Zou, who was in charge of operating the electric generator, later married Wan. "Films brought me a job as well as a wife," he said.

In the beginning, Wan and Zou had to push a handcart loaded with heavy equipment to tour villages. They then purchased a bicycle, which was later replaced by a motorbike.

In the 1990s, however, outdoor cinema audiences gradually declined as television became mainstream and more villagers migrated to big cities for decent jobs.

"Our number of moviegoers at one screening decreased from thousands to dozens. Many film teams were dismissed due to funding shortages," Wan said.

But Wan did not give up amid the low tide. To keep his family afloat, he took on many other jobs such as security guard and construction worker. "He seems to be enchanted by movie screenings, and I support him," said Zou.

In recent years, gathering to watch movies has seen a comeback in many villages. The Chinese government issued a policy to support film screenings in rural areas. It called for at least one free screening per month in each village, which would be subsidized by the government.

"I now project 120 movies in 10 villages a year," said Wan, adding that traditional film projectors have been replaced by digital ones, providing a wealth of quality films for villagers.

In recent decades, Wan has witnessed the ups and downs of outdoor cinemas, as well as equipment upgrades in rural China, yet his enthusiasm for movies has never waned.

"Movies enabled me to learn about the outside world when I was a kid. I am now happy to introduce this world to more villagers," Wan said. "When I see my audiences enjoy a movie, I feel my efforts are paying off."

Villager Xiong Guanbao, 51, and his two grandsons are frequent visitors to Wan's outdoor cinema. "We have never missed a movie in the village. They have brought a lot of fun to our lives," said Xiong.

"Outdoor movies have irreplaceable value in the countryside. I will keep projecting movies as long as I can lift the projector and set up the screen," said Wan. Enditem