An ornamental water wheel in a Lanzhou city park. (Contributed photo).

Red Deer-raised filmmaker shoots documentary in China

Jesse Pickett said making Still Turning was transformative experience

Red Deer filmmaker Jesse Pickett returned from China with high regard for the country’s ancient artistry and friendly people.

He also has renewed appreciation for Canada’s freedom of expression.

Pickett, a Hunting Hills graduate now based in B.C., was one of four emerging Canadian filmmakers chosen to make a short film in China along the themes of craftsmanship, innovation and inheritance. About 100 international artists shot footage under a program called Looking China, operated by Beijing Normal University and connected to the Vancouver Chinese Film Festival.

Pickett directed the 10-minute documentary Still Turning in June. It focuses on the craftsmanship of Duan Yicun, 74, who devoted most of his life to reviving an ancient family tradition — building the large Chinese waterwheels used since the 1500s for irrigation.

Yicun, who lives in Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu Province in Northwest China, is the 20th-generation direct descendant of the inventor of the 30-metre wheels. The process was almost a lost art form before Yicun brought it back in the 1970s, said Pickett. Now Chinese waterwheels are in demand, both for agriculture and ornamentation.

Pickett worked with a translator to interview Yicun, and linked the artisan’s story with the role of water in China. The Central Alberta native visited a modern hydro-electric dam that powers four provinces. “I looked at hydro-electricity and water as a form of energy.”

Pickett was impressed by Yicun’s craftsmanship and integrity — as well as the sheer size of China.

Lanzhou, with 14-million people, is only the country’s 37th largest city. Many of its new apartment buildings are uninhabited, however. They were built as part of an unsuccessful government push to try to urbanize the area’s agrarian population.

Pickett said he was told by Chinese officials not to put this into his film. “It was forbidden to focus on that area too much.”

Filming Still Turning, which debuted earlier this month at the Vancouver Chinese Film Festival, was a transformative experience — Pickett learned he likes making documentaries as much as fictional films. Having previously worked on Chopped Canada and his film Umbrageous, about gun violence, he also learned that “I appreciate the freedom of expression we have in Canada. It’s not available in every country.”

While Pickett would love to return to China, he next hopes to make a feature film in Central Alberta.

Still Turning can be seen on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enzo3-5vyQI&t=1s.

lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

Just Posted

WATCH: Setters Place grand opening in Red Deer

Red Deer’s Setters Place officially opened to the public Saturday afternoon.… Continue reading

Women’s marches underway in Canadian cities, a year after Trump inauguration

Women are gathering in dozens of communities across the country today to… Continue reading

Red Deer councillor balks at city getting stuck with more funding responsibilities

Volunteer Central seeks municipal funding after being cut off by government

Olds chicken barn burns to the ground, no livestock harmed

More than 100,000 chickens were saved as fire crews prevent the blaze from spreading

Bear video meant to promote conservation: zoo owner

Discovery Wildlife Park says it will look at other ways to promote its conservation message

In photos: Get ready for Western Canadian Championships

Haywood NorAm Western Canadian Championships and Peavey Mart Alberta Cup 5/6 start… Continue reading

WATCH: Red Deer city council debates cost-savings versus quality of life

Majority of councillors decide certain services are worth preserving

Got milk? Highway reopened near Millet

A southbound truck hauling milk and cartons collided with a bridge

Stettler’s newest residents overcame fear, bloodshed to come here

Daniel Kwizera, Diane Mukasine and kids now permanent residents

Giddy up: Red Deer to host Canadian Finals Rodeo in 2018

The CFR is expected to bring $20-30 million annually to Red Deer and region

Ice dancers Virtue and Moir to carry flag at Pyeongchang Olympics

Not since Kurt Browning at the 1994 Lillehammer Games has a figure… Continue reading

Beer Canada calls on feds to axe increasing beer tax as consumption trends down

OTTAWA — A trade association for Canada’s beer industry wants the federal… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month