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Splendid Land

The China-Greece co-production documentary Splendid Land, directed by Eleni Vlassi & Jin Huaqing, won the Best International Short Documentary Award and the Audience Award, in the International Documentary Festival of Ierapetra & Awards and the International Film Festival of Crete, which took place in Crete from 7 till 21 August 2021. This film presents the wonderful land of Xinjiang, China and its ancient customs through a musician pursuing the Mukam music and the spectacular landscape.



Splendid Land, directed by Eleni Vlassi & Jin Huaqing: splendid nostalgic land in a wintry time"

The China-Greece co-production documentary Splendid Land, directed by Eleni Vlassi & Jin Huaqing, won the Best International Short Documentary Award and the Audience Award, in the International Documentary Festival of Ierapetra & Awards and the International Film Festival of Crete, which took place in Crete from 7 till 21 August 2021. This film presents the wonderful land of Xinjiang, China and its ancient customs through a musician pursuing the Mukam music and the spectacular landscape.

Through the highest production quality possible and sparing no expense, no doubt to depict a world that only dreams can conjur, "Splendid Land" is a film showing the effectiveness and life saving element of nostalgia and its ability to glorify past experiences and places and get one through dark times. 

Produced by Jin Huaqing Film Studio, the film is based on the narration of travelers who have been to Xinjiang and the protagonist played by an English actor, the film "Splendid Land" is a sentimental travel diary of an everyman's fond memories for a far off place that, like any beautiful place or memory, can psychologically help a person survive through grief. 

Through an image of a wintry snow covered home in southeast England, we see a world dark and isolated with no sun. The city is unnamed so feels metaphorical of a cold and bleak time. Inside, a man writes in his diary at his desk beside a cup of tea. We hear a voiceover: “The pandemic is not over yet", now revealing the seemingly hopeless time he is living through. 

The man writes about his original travel plans which now, due to the Covid 19 pandemic, will not take place for an indefinite amount of time. He moves from his desk to his bed where he looks through old photographs of past travels. While flipping pages of a photo album, he reminisces back to a trip he took to Xinjiang, China three years before. 

Bringing to mind "Through the Looking Glass" by Lewis Carol, the camera focuses on a painting on the wall of his bedroom, through which we enter and get a glimpse into another world. The painting is an image of a wintry snow covered forest in Xinjiang China. With dazzling cinematography sparing no expense, the camera moves in on the painting revealing a three dimensional world where we see the reality of this vast land through the vivid and vibrant dreamy memories of the narrator. 

This wintry land that comes to life through the painting is the Altay Prefecture in Xinjiang, China, a place where the narrator says he spent time three years before during his travels on the way to his destination of the northern provinces of Xinjiang, otherwise referred to as his “Splendid Land”. The drone shots and panning camera maneuvers of the spanning landscapes of this part of China reveal the otherworldly place as our narrator remembers it.

Through his narrative, the narrator recalls his arrival to the Hemu grassland in northern Xinjiang in spring three years ago. There and according to his memory of it, he found a veritable paradise on earth. It is where Kazakh herders have lived for generations in the region and continue their ancient nomadic existence today. The narrator speaks of them with rose colored glasses of sentimentality that only the beautiful nostalgic memory of something can recall, saying, “These Kazakh herders lean on the grassland and kiss the blue sky everyday [...] they play music whenever they want and dance wherever they are. They are enjoying a blissfully happy life.”

He holds the recollections of his trip to Xinjiang close to him like a life giving talisman in these dark Covid pandemic times, the charms of that place helping him to get him through it. While at home in England during springtime, he attempts to paint his wistful remembrances of that sacred land, but, he says, "I try to depict the beauty of Xinjiang in my memories, but my clumsy hands could not draw the tenth of it.” Where his paintings fail him, stunning cinematography moves in to depict paintinglike images of an Edenic land full of expansive pastures, deserts, seemingly endless sunshine and an idyllic people dressed in spirited colors singing and dancing the days away. 

With dreamy sweeping cinematic images of a desert sea, he describes the boundless deserts in an area called "the land of fire", which was a place that had to be passed through on the ancient silk road. Past the deserts and land of fire and flaming mountains a lush oasis can be found called Turpan. Within the deserts of Turpan, Xinjiang is an emerald forest of green life thriving with agriculture and vineyards. He visited during harvest time when grapes were picked for wine and celebratory traditional music festivals abounded. The oasis here resembles the oasis his memories of this place provide for him during the deserted life of the pandemic.

Two hundred miles from Turpan is Urumqi, the largest city in Xinjiang. Our narrator explains that Urumqi is the geographic center of the Eurasian continent and the farthest city from the ocean where in the center people of all ages are always playing music of all types (traditional and international) and dancing. The commercial town, also on the ancient silk road, is today a thriving metropolis. From Uumqi, the narrator traveled to Kashgar where the Uyghur people live, a place of rich culture, tradition and modernity. With Mukam music and local dances, the narrator recalls them thriving in poetic bliss as they live together in harmony and unspoiled national identity. He then traveled to the Pamir plateau, 4000 meters in altitude, in the Tajic nation with the eagle as their cultural symbol. In Xinjiang, there are 47 ethnic groups with a population of 26 million. The narrator tells us that its people are "living freely in their ideal beautiful home that they built with hard work and wisdom.”

Through vibrant colors, the sun shining all the time, everyone always smiling and laughing, dancing, singing, the narrator depicts a dreamlike place that at times feels more like an unreal perfection, a honeymoon stage of viewing a place, or a travelers gaze, that transcends the reality of actual real diurnal life of its locals. “When words fail to express their joy," he says, "they just dance". This is the perfect example of the effectiveness of nostalgia and how things of the past can get us through the dark times of the present. I am reminded of an old Latin proverb -"Et lux in tenebris lucet" - "and the light shineth in the darkness". 

The kind of fascination of the narrator is of one who finds their complete self in a world beyond their own, whether it be one traveling from the east to west or one traveling west to east, a yin and yang or tao-like completeness in the existence of living with the knowledge and reality of both sides. With its emphasis on sunshine, smiles, song and dance, this region appears like an unearthly Shangri-La. The place of Xinjiang to the narrator is seen as one of near perfection through the lense of nostalgia during a dark global pandemic. 

At the end of the film, we see the painter back at home in southeast England. It is a stark contrast to the ideal world he left behind with dark colors, rain, gray skies, a man alone in the world. Birds fly overhead and the painter talks about spring finally coming to England and the pandemic situation getting better little by little. The narrator says, “I do hope to return to that splendid land of Xinjiang and meet those friends that I missed everyday." He goes on with longing that he pines to return to that perfect place of warm smiles, music, dancing that "like a beam of sunshine having shone into the gloom of the pandemic."


With no name of the man, no name of the city he lives in, it is a metaphor of how our own idyllic memories and the power of nostalgia for something, or for a "Splendid Land", can feel more real than the harsh reality we live day to day. It is a yearning look back at a place that he loves, somewhat like a nostalgic look on a past of a world that no longer exists but that hopefully will exist again one day. 


Vanessa McMahon

Writer, Producer

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About Splendid Land

Huaqing Jin
(Jin Huaqing Film Studio)


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