Since launching her first feature-length documentary, Building 173, at this year’s Sunny Side of the Doc, former BBC China correspondent Charlotte Mikkelborg has taken on many other firsts. She took part in the business side of selling a doc for the first time, she got her first sale and, right after her trip to La Rochelle, she found out she was pregnant with twins. Amidst all of this she also learned what it’s like to sell a China-based documentary in the wake of the Olympics and to sell a unconventionally made, partially animated doc when channels just don’t know what slot to put it in.
Mikkelborg left her job as the BBC China business correspondent in 2006 to pursue her doc making dreams. Her first foray was a series of short docs produced for the UN from the Democratic Republic of Congo called The Forgotten War, about the use of rape in the region as an ethnic cleansing tool. The move from investigative reporter to doc maker was relatively smooth, since many of her reports for the BBC were reported, produced, filmed, written and edited by her.
The response to her new doc from broadcasters has been generally positive, albeit slow coming, and when asked if she’s feeling a China exhaustion from networks Mikkelborg says the response is twofold. ‘WGBH said there was a bit of China exhaustion and so did one of the German channels, but overall that isn’t the feeling I’ve been getting,’ she says. On the other hand, people are a bit more alert to China and Chinese issues. ‘[With] everything that’s going on in the economy people are looking to Asia to help the whole economy out of the crisis,’ says Mikkelborg. ‘In that sense, interest in China has been flagged up again by the economic woes. Not that this is a film about that, clearly.’
The film is about China’s history as told through the eyes of seven families who have lived through generations in one building (Building 173) in downtown Shanghai. On a large scale the doc tells the story of Shanghai from the 1930s to the present – from the Japanese invasion to the Cultural Revolution to the materialism of today’s China. On a smaller scale the film focuses on seven families who have lived in the building and seen the changes in both the structure itself, as well as the community outside its walls.
Building 173 has been picked up by AETN in Southeast Asia. Mikkelborg says she’s had a lot of interest from Scandinavia and is hoping to be picked up by strands such as PBS’s ‘Independent Lens’ and BBC’s ‘Storyville.’