A Rapid Rail to 2022: The old and new Beijing-Zhangjiakou railways condenses time and space


Film introduction:

In 1909, the Beijing-Zhangjiakou Railway, China's first independently-built railway, was completed under the direction of Zhan Tianyou; in early 2020, the Beijing-Zhangjiakou High-speed Railway, one of the transport facilities for the Beijing Winter Olympics, was officially opened to traffic. Qinglongqiao Station, the only station still in use on the Beijing-Zhangjiakou Railway, has become the intersection of the new and old routes a century after its founding. It is here that the railway’s shape changes from a reverse Y to a reverse¥.

This film focuses on the stories of Yang Cunxin, the stationmaster of Qinglongqiao Station, and Zhang Shijie, the foundation work designer of the Beijing-Zhangjiakou High-speed Railway. It tells of the persistence and dedication of the old and new railwaymen, highlights opportunities of economic and social development presented by the  city to host both a Summer and Winter Olympics, and reflects the changes in China's railways over the past century, especially the leap-forward development driven by the two Olympics.

One platform connects the emotions of two centuries. Where did the idea for this short film come from? What difficulties or unforgettable things were encountered during the shooting of the short film? Niu Mengtong, the director of the short film A Rapid Rail to 2022, recently revealed the background.

Reporter: There are many angles to choose from when shooting videos related to the Winter Olympics. How did the idea of the railway come about? What is the story behind it?

Niu Mengtong: The topic was chosen following discussions among the whole team. At that time, I heard that the Beijing-Zhangjiakou high-speed railway was about to open and would shorten the travel time between Beijing and Zhangjiakou to just one hour. It is one of the supporting transportation facilities for the Beijing Winter Olympics and the latest achievement of the rapid development of China’s railways which will benefit the people of both cities and even the whole of North China. Its opening also put the old Beijing-Zhangjiakou railway in the spotlight again.

Last year was the 110th anniversary of the completion of the old Beijing-Zhangjiakou Railway. It is the first main railway line designed, built and operated by the Chinese themselves. Behind it is a profound history of the country.

The coexistence of these two railways condenses time and space and is very symbolic, so we chose it as the theme of the film.

Luckily, we found two very suitable people. One is Yang Cunxin, the head of Qinglongqiao Station. This old station is one of the few still extant on the old Beijing-Zhangjiakou line. It is located at the junction of the century-old Z-shaped rails. The old and new Beijing-Zhangjiakou lines also meet here. Yang and his father have been watching here for nearly 70 years in total. The other is Zhang Shijie, a railway designer born in Zhangjiakou in the 1980s. Being a skiing enthusiast, he is both a builder and a beneficiary of the Beijing-Zhangjiakou high-speed railway. With the old and young railwaymen of the Beijing-Zhangjiakou line, the idea took shape.


Reporter: As the saying goes, one minute on stage needs a decade practice backstage. It is the same for the short video. A Rapid Rail to 2022 lasts only about 5 minutes, but there is much effort behind it. Can you recall what impressed you most when shooting this film?

Niu Mengtong: We celebrated Christmas Eve and Christmas at the century-old Qinglongqiao Station for shooting the video. I was particularly impressed with what happened then. There are many old objects in the station. A bronze statue of Zhan Tianyou stands on the platform, and his tomb is nearby. At night, the surrounding area was pitch black. When there was no train, it was quiet. With the lights of the station building, we could vaguely see the ancient sections of the Great Wall on the cliffs nearby.

Standing there, we not only had an intense sense of its profound history, but also gained an insight into the hardship of railwaymen, which inspired us and our sense of responsibility. On Christmas Eve, it snowed in the mountains of Yanqing. The crew was unprepared and felt chilled to the bones. They took turns to use a few heating pads to keep warm. No one complained about the weather. They lay prone in the snow and insisted on working and a lot of great scenes were shot that night.


Reporter: What does the crew want to bring to the audience through this film?

Niu Mengtong: I wanted to show the tenacious and unyielding national spirit and the bravery of the Chinese people through two historically significant railway lines and the stories of two generations of railwaymen's perseverance and dedication, and enable the public to relive our past while feeling proud of the achievements of the city to host both a Summer and Winter Olympics.  


Reporter: As a director, which part of the film are you most happy with?

Niu Mengtong: The quality of the film largely depends on the core of the story. Our crew is very happy with the topic. As for the film itself, I think there are still many aspects that need to be improved due to lack of experience.

Personally, I like the overlapping of slow motion of the old and new Beijing-Zhangjiakou railwaymen at the beginning, which set the tone of the film, created the atmosphere, and condensed what we most wanted to express in the whole film. From the century-old station in the cols to the Winter Olympics ski resort in the new town; from the first railway built by the Chinese to the world's first intelligent high-speed railway with a speed of 350 kilometers per hour; from the old generation railwaymen who contributed their lifetime to the station to the new generation railway worker who both work hard and enjoy skiing... Through the window of the Winter Olympics, we saw lovely people.


Reporter: The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics is coming, and there is a great enthusiasm about ice sports among the people. During the Beijing International Sports Film Week, more than 20 of the 158 films solicited were related to the Winter Olympics, which makes the competition quite intense. A Rapid Rail to 2022 stood out and was recommended to be screened in the global finals of FICTS - Federation Internationale Cinema Television Sportifs, headquartered in Milan (Italy). In your opinion, what is the biggest reason for that?

Niu Mengtong: I think it may be because the film’s topic is relatively new, its story is substantial, and its quality is good in all aspects. The perspective of this film is not conventionally placed on physical education, sports or events itself. Instead, the film tells a story with a broader perspective.

Railways can reflect the development of a city or even a country. Accelerating the improvement and upgrading of infrastructure is often an important result of Olympics. And what we show is how to leverage the development, from both material and spiritual aspects, to strengthen the historical tradition we should insist on, and complete the epoch-making transformation we intend to achieve.

 (Jie Mingyue)


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