11 out of 1.3 billion

11 out of 1.3 billion

By Paul Williams

It’s a statement that is said over and over - how can China, a country of 1.3 billion, not produce a quality, competitive national team?

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And it was that question that piqued the interest of Dutch documentary maker David Lingerak, who took it upon himself to explore that very question in a new documentary that examines Chinese football.

We sat down with David to discuss the documentary and get an update on it’s progress.

Tell us more about the project? What inspired you to do a documentary on Chinese football?
“Why can’t China manage to make a good team out of so many potential football players?” was the question that the three guys from About Asia asked me. They are friends of mine, and have a China consultancy office. I was immediately fascinated by the question. We know China from sports, yet Chinese football is completely unknown here in Europe. But so many interesting developments have been happening over the past few years! We will be the first team to provide a view on contemporary Chinese football.

What stage is the project at the moment? I understand you’ve already visited China to shoot some initial footage.
Research and some filming have already been done. We wanted to know if the subject is ‘filmable’ before we started promoting it to the world. We made a short teaser film to gain interest from the public, sponsors especially. We still need to film a lot more though. It takes a while before you can talk to all the people you want to give a voice in the film. This is true everywhere, but even more in China, where often you make contacts through friends who know someone who knows someone else…

What do you want to highlight as the main theme in your documentary?
The main theme is clear: Why can’t China, known for being good at sports, make a good football team out of so many people? The interesting thing is that there are so many different answers to this question. Some people blame the educational system and some say it is the top officials from the CFA making bad decisions. Others tell us it is the historic development of the sport in the country and we even talked to a Chinese doctor who said that the Chinese are not physically well built for this sport. but the film won’t just be a series of interviews, or a parade of football officials. We also focus on fans, like kids with dreams of football stardom and we follow die-hard fans that travel to the away games.

Did you have any knowledge of Chinese football before you began this project?
I did not.. Just like almost everyone in the west I never mentioned the words China and Football in one sentence. But the AboutAsia guys have good connections as they have analyzed the Chinese football market for their business. I prepared and read a lot about the subject. In China we went out to talk to the people involved in the game. Gradually the picture of possible causes for China being behind in football success became clearer.

With any documentary there are always funds required, I understand you’re looking for sponsorships at the moment. Can you give us an update on how that is going and what people can do if they wish to sponsor or donate?
It is going quite well, we’re right in the middle of funding the project. Getting any film funded is hard in the current economic climate in Europe. So we had to be inventive. We believe there are many thousands of people who are very interested in football, and also have great interest in China. We started a crowd funding campaign. We get a lot of attention for the project and many football lovers are supporting us, but we also need to have some corporate sponsors as they can spend a bit more and benefit from having their logo in the film’s credits and promotion materials. For ‘small’ sponsors we have nice presents as well, check out www.football-in-china.com for info! A preview clip is also available there.

Have you had any hurdles or roadblocks you’ve encountered so far in trying to shoot the project, particularly in China from the CFA or any of the clubs?
It is always difficult to talk to people in high positions. But generally it is going well. We don’t want too many ‘officials’ in the film as they will tend to give ‘official’ answers. The big name foreign players are also quite difficult to get a hold of, but not impossible we hope. In addition, our connections within the Dutch football world are helping a lot to navigate the Chinese football network. We are curious and want to show all aspects of Chinese football. But we are a friendly bunch, and have no intention to make people or teams look bad. Everyone can relax when being interviewed by us!

What is the timeframe on completing the documentary? Do you have an end or launch date in mind, or is it simply a matter of as long as it takes?
In June 2013 the Dutch national team will play a friendly match in and against China. We want the documentary to be ready by then, as this event will generate a lot of interest for the subject.

A lot of filming still has to be done. Some things that we wanted to film at the end of last year’s football season all happened at the same time, and we could only be in one place at the same moment. So we will wait for the start of the new season to film some more ‘in-stadium action’, and edit the current footage in the meanwhile. Also in January we will be in China to shoot some more interviews, a perfect task for the off-season.

What have you learnt so far making this documentary that you didn’t know beforehand? Is there one particular thing that has surprised you?
I was surprised by seeing so many people in Manchester United shirts outside the stadium at the friendly match between Shanghai Shenhua and the Red Devils last summer. But then, when the Shenhua bus came in, everyone cheered for them as well. It is great to see that the Shanghainese fans can support more than one team at the same time! In addition, the very positive reaction of the Chinese public to our preview film has surprised us as well. In general they are not so excited about the prospects of their national team, but they really enjoy seeing what their fellow countrymen in our documentary have to say about the subject.

For more information, or to sponsor this project, visit the Football in China website - www.football-in-china.com

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