Although he studied in Beijing, for many of his films—Platform (2000), Unknown Pleasures (2002), Mountains May Depart (2015)—Jia Zhangke returned to the province where he grew up: Shanxi. Jia is not alone in his interest in rural China. Many great Chinese writers have gone back to their native villages and set their novels in rural China, where the rapid changes in Chinese society are felt in ways that differ from the big city, but are no less conspicuous.
In the spring of 2019, Jia organized a literary festival near his hometown of Fengyan. This was the starting point for Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue, Jia’s portrait of famous authors such as Yu Hua, Liang Hong, and Jia Pingwa. They talk about their childhood, family, career, and the significance of their origins in their work. Together, the stories span seventy years of Chinese history. Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue is the final part of Jia’s documentary trilogy about artists, following Dong (2006) and Useless (2007).