Once Upon a Time in Shanghai

  • Leyli Gafarova
  • Azerbaijan, Germany
  • 2018
  • 35 min
  • World Premiere
  • IDFA Competition for Short Documentary

Welcome to Shanghai. No, not the Chinese megalopolis full of neon and nouveaux riches, but precisely the opposite: an eponymous slum in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. In the distance, skyscrapers built with oil money tower above the city, but here dilapidated houses are packed along a single railway line. The slum is scheduled for demolition, and now and again a child is killed by one of the freight trains slowly chugging by.

When the German director Veit Helmer arrives in Shanghai to make a feature film, feelings quickly run high. The locals are afraid that he wants to make them look ridiculous. The young Azerbaijani filmmaker Leyli Gafarova succeeds however in gaining the inhabitants’ trust and films a choppy, playful portrait of Shanghai in the margins of the feature film production. In the guise of a making-of, she shows intimate fragments of life in the slum, while it’s still standing.


  • 35 min
  • color
  • DCP
  • Spoken languages: Azerbaijani, English, German, French
  • Subtitles in: English
Leyli Gafarova
Veit Helmer / Veit Helmer-Filmproduktion
Leyli Gafarova
Leyli Gafarova
Leyli Gafarova

IDFA history

World Premiere
IDFA Competition for Short Documentary

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IDFA history

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