In this day and age anyone can become an internet star, and indeed go on to produce outputs of good quality without the need for a production team behind them. Lu Qingyi is a man who has unwittingly followed such a path. Having had a mixture of jobs, from labourer to artist, on returning to his hometown of Dushan in Guizhou, he kept a diary which his father subsequently posted online. Prompting interest in the life of his family, the photographer in Lu started to film his parents as they prepared for New Year; a new tradition which continued over the subsequent years.
Starting in 2013, we are introduced to the family members, with the focus on the parents going about their daily lives and preparations, always with a song in their heart. The second spring, however, brings great sadness as his older sister is taken ill with cancer, resulting in a period of mourning.
The third spring is a sombre affair, the father looking through old videos which he put together, of the family when they were younger and all together, framed as mini films within the film; before a happier fourth spring arrives.
Despite the obvious sadness at the death of the sister, it’s fair to say that “Four Springs” isn’t exactly a film packed with incident. This is slow-paced observation, with little in the way of an overarching narrative. Instead, the sometimes photographer puts his camera on his family films and lets nature take its course. Here and there, captions and titles add some context to the shots or time period, but other than that, this is a collection of home videos developed into a chronological structure over four years.
Like the South Korea documentary “My Love Don’t Cross that River”, “Four Springs” films an ageing couple happily sharing their lives together, though this time without the building to the inevitable as in the former. Traditional song is a key part in the lives of the pair, singing throughout their days as they work in the hills, fields and around the house.
But also technology becomes and increasing part in their lives. They make messages on mobile phones in laughter and the father increasingly spends time on his computer, listening to music and watching old videos – an act which led to the film’s birth in the first place. The family also gives ‘directions’ to the film’s director, telling him which angle to shoot from or what he should be filming. The credits given to his father’s home videos also show a loving affection from the son.
But Lu doesn’t need their help. The cinematography from the directorial novice is strong throughout; and the family do their bit as the stars of the film in both their documentary and family roles. Epilogued with videos from the subsequent springs in the end credits, this is a love letter to his family and a personal project warmly put together. And after some travels and many jobs along the way, it seems Lu could have found his home as a documentarian.