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The documentary Aerial China, which shows China from a bird’s-eye perspective, was aired on CCTV-9 in January 2017. Each episode features some of the most representative and beautiful landscapes in the country. The series consists of a total of 34 episodes, each 50 minutes long, and covers all of China’s 23 provinces, five autonomous regions, four municipalities and two special administrative regions.
The documentary was an immediate hit. Viewers exclaimed that the beauty was tear-jerking. CSM Media Research data shows that when Aerial China was on the air, CCTV-9’s primetime ratings doubled. Even the notoriously hard-to-please reviewers on the Chinese website Douban scored it a 9.4 out of 10.
Aerial China is about love, according to director Yu Le. “It is a strong affection for the land on which we live. It is an overview of the world in which we live. This affection goes beyond time and space,” he explains.
Journey in the Sky
“Previously, my friends thought that the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region only had prairies, yurts, and donkeys, and now they know they were wrong.”
“I had to fight back my tears while watching. The richness and beauty of our motherland are perfectly presented in a breathtaking way.”
Even Yu was a little surprised by many of the comments. The 33-year-old has been working as a director for 13 years and didn’t expect the younger generation to empathize with many details of the documentary. Yu likes that without subtitles, Aerial China could still stand as a scenic film.
“Generally, the longest time anyone is willing to watch a purely scenic film is three to five minutes,” Yu says. “So how did we keep people’s attention for the full 50-minute stretch or even longer? It’s because the entire documentary was designed around transmitting multiple sets of information. When people watch the documentary, their brains have to keep working. The information they learn is much more than images depicted on screen.”
Yu explains that much of this additional information is transmitted through the narrator, so he placed great focus on the voiceover. “Who is our target audience?” he asked. “We wanted even seven-year-old children and the elderly to understand and remember the content without trouble. That was our aim.” Yu points out that to optimally communicate with the audience, the voice should lead viewers deeper into the visual journey rather than simply reading captions. From the first to the final draft, the script for the first season of Aerial China was revised at least 10 times. Producers were aged between 20 and 40. Although the final narration script of each episode consists of about 6,000 to 7,000 words, early drafts contained as many as 150,000 words.
The first six episodes of Aerial China showcase Shanghai, Xinjiang, Heilongjiang, Jiangxi, Shaanxi and Hainan. These photos show some of the sites in the documentary.