Shanghai archive screens city’s first known home film

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 November, 2013, 5:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2018, 5:46pm

The Shanghai Audiovisual Archive has released the first known amateur film filmed in the city and preserved in the Chinese mainland.

The short clip, just minutes long, gives a rare insight into daily life in the metropolis of the 1930s, a bustling international hub which attracted more foreign investment than even London or Paris at the time. Subsequently the second world war and the social campaigns of the 1950s and 60s left little evidence of the city’s former cosmopolitan splendour standing.

The first short film clip is only a hint of more things to come, Wang Min, its programme planning director, told the South China Morning Post.

“Early this year we obtained two film rolls from a private collector. We haven’t fully repaired them yet, but just applied some physical treatment.”

The archive started a social media campaign on Sunday on the city’s Sina Weibo account, releasing a short part of the video in the hopes of finding someone who could identify the area or the people in it, albeit 80 years later. It shows “capitalists, fooling around” in March 1936, according to a label on its containing box.

Two young women are seen playing with a dog as a cook walks past holding a wok. A grinning elderly man is seen taking out his dentures, saluting the unknown cameraman.  

“We are interested in the people and their families in the film, their professions, family life, living conditions, and so on,” said Wang. He said identifying them would allow valuable social research of a turbulent era in Shanghainese history.

Dr Chan Ka Lok Sobel, film director at the Hong Kong Baptist University’s Academy of Film, said he hoped to see more of the archive’s treasures renovated and released. The film was an “absolutely precious memory of Shanghai through light and shadow never seen before,” he said.

"The footage is very interesting especially regarding who could be behind the camera," said Esther C.M. Yau,  a professor in cultural studies at the University of Hong Kong. "[He or she was] possibly a person of means who has amateur interest in the movies and who must have watched the Lumiere shorts or other silent films shown in Shanghai theaters of the time." 

The archive started collecting video material in 2011.

Video: 1930s Shanghai archive film makes debut