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This documentary reveals the daily lives of Zhongnan hermits.


Shiping He, Peng Fu (co-director) | 1 more credit »


Peng Fu, He Shiping | 1 more credit »


Bill Porter




Credited cast:
Bill Porter Bill Porter ... Bill Porter


25 years ago, American author Bill Porter (a.k.a. Red Pine) went to the Zhongnan Mountains to seek out modern Chinese hermits. His resulting book, Road to Heaven, was a touchstone for many westerners wondering what remained of Buddhist and Daoist asceticism in China. Now, for the first time, Bill Porter revisits Zhongnan to seek out those who seek from within, living quiet lives of deep devotion in some of the world's most stunning locales. Written by Emei Movie Channel

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Our life in the mountains feels like slow motion in the movies.


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Director's Statement

13 Commandments

It took the crew 3 years and 14 trips to Zhongnan Mountains to accomplish this documentary. It was difficult to communicate with the hermits. The requests for interview were mostly rejected, but when some of them agreed, the crew got the precious opportunities. Due to their humbleness, sincereness and patience, about ten hermits finally agreed to be filmed and might be willing to have further communication with the filming team. Unfortunately, the author/leading character--Bill Porter was only allowed to stay in China for a short while this time. However, with three years' hard work and preparation, the team're quite ready for the revisit.

1. Zen. Everything moves except the camera position. The dynamic state of men, wind, water, birds, grass and trees contrasts with the static state of the camera. No zoom shots, no pans and tilts, no dolly or crane shots. The balance of composition is pursued, with the steady scenes to reveal inner peace and quietness.

2. Humility. For shooting the hermits, cameramen should adopt only low angle and the static camera position. The camera should be no higher than the cameramen's heads when they are shooting on their knees. Try to avoid the disrespectful high angle shots, and while shooting the conversations between Bill Porter and the hermits, cameramen should step back or leave the scene once the camera is set and rolling.

3. Moderation. Use mainly medium shots for shooting characters instead of close-ups, so as to avoid the dramatic effects. The frames of interior shots and exterior shots of dialogues are limited to one zhang (c. 3.333 meters) wide, symbolizing Fang Zhang (square zhang, or 11 1/9 m2), as in "The room of one square zhang can contain all." in Vimalakirti Sutra. Static camera position is required for the scenes of people sitting in meditation, apprehending the doctrines, practicing martial arts, living, etc. Following shot or other kinds of moving camera shots are prevented.

4. Selection. The unnecessary gorgeous scenery is left out. Just the simple life of the hermits is filmed. This documentary is to show both the elegant, poetic, leisurely and carefree aspects, and the impoverished, choice-less, agonizing, and sometimes dirty sides of the hermits' life.

5. Micro-Budget. Total cost is under $92k(EUR65k). To reveal a way of low budget life, the crew adopt a way of low budget filming. Instead of professional movie cameras, they shot the whole documentary with Canon EOS 5D Mark II, using only prime lens and telephoto lens.

6. Keeping it natural. Absolutely no props, setting, or artificial lighting are added. Everything you see is the actual living condition of the hermits.

7. Simplicity. During post-production, no special effects - fade-in, fade-out, dissolve or blank screen - are added. Scenes are directly connected by the footages of Bill Porter's journey.

8. Silence. There may be awkward situations when the hermits refuse to let the crew in, or are not willing to talk with them, which, however, lead to precious scenes that definitely need to be captured. Moreover, the film let such shots last, in order to brew interesting and profound impression.

9. Slowness. Slowness is the rhythm of the hermits' life, and the style of this documentary. Bill Porter is required to speak slowly, as he's thinking. The hermits talk slowly, with pauses, or even sit in silence from time to time. In addition, streams in the documentary are slow and soft ripple instead of water pouring down.

10. Vitality. The film does not peruse intentional vitality so as to get rid of the tediousness. In fact, the spontaneous self-mockery and movement are of vivid eastern wisdom and humor. Besides, Bill Porter's body language is vivid enough.

11. Quietness. No score. No narration. Only the hermits and Bill Porter's sound recorded on location, with occasional birds' chirping, dogs' barking and water babbling.

12. Freedom. The crew should not direct any of Bill Porter's topics.

13. Fast. After going into the mountain, the filming team are forbidden to have alcoholic drinks, meats, scallion, or garlic. See more »


Hermit Master: Our life in the mountains feels like slow motion in the movies.
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User Reviews

"Are you here, Master?"
17 November 2015 | by dennisdmcdonaldSee all my reviews

This documentary follows a 71 year old American, Bill Porter, to a mountainous area of China. 25 years ago he visited and wrote a book about the solitary monks who live here in the mountains, some in caves. Now he returns to see how the hermits are doing. Some whom he met have died but he finds the area still populated by male and female monks who spend their days in meditation, chanting, and exercise. The camera follows him as he laboriously moves from site to site and talks with different hermits about how they spend their days. The movie is slow and deliberate. Nothing is sudden or sharp. We see the author climb up narrow paths to knock on different doors and ask, "Are you here, Master?"

Everywhere you look you see the mountains, lush vegetation punctuated by craggy rocks, and at the monks' residences, evidence of their Spartan existence. As the movie progresses we see that, not only does the American know the language, he also has extensively studied and translated Buddhist teachings into English and can carry on conversations with the monks about their own thinking. Some have read his book and that provides him credibility as someone whom they can trust.

Production wise the photography, editing, and soundtrack are beautiful. The mountains are gorgeous and the sounds of insects and birds permeate every scene. Common everyday objects and activities are presented in carefully framed and lit views. But the pacing is slow and deliberate. That will be part of the appeal to the viewer who is curious about these people and why they live as they do; others might be bored. The conversations are not terribly deep but we do occasionally see glimmers of insight into why the hermits cut themselves off from "civilization" like this.

NOTE: This is my personal review of one of the films shown at the 2015 Alexandria Film Festival (http://alexandriafilm.org/); I'm one of the Festival judges.

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Release Date:

11 April 2015 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits See more »

Filming Locations:

Xi'an, Shaanxi, China

Company Credits

Production Co:

Emei Movie Channel See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs




Aspect Ratio:

16:9 HD
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