In the face of China’s rapid modernization, the world’s most populous country is struggling to preserve its cultural heritage, and nowhere is this more visible than in the ancient alleyways and courtyards of Beijing.

Once a ubiquitous feature of Beijing, the hutongs are more than simply housing; they are actually a way of life. Entire families live in single, crowded courtyards, often with no bathrooms. Yet despite the lack of modern amenities, the communal aspect to life within the hutongs means that few want to leave – even as their neighbourhoods are being demolished and redeveloped. UNESCO estimates that more than 88 percent of the city’s old residential quarters are already gone, most torn down in the last three decades.

In a three-part series, filmmakers Jonah Kessel and Kit Gillet explore the vanishing world of Beijing’s hutongs, the realities of life within the narrow streets, and the future for these culturally-irreplaceable areas of China’s capital.

Festival Screenings and Awards:
Made in conjunction with Asia Society, a non-profit educational institute based in New York. Broadcast on websites of Asia Society and Global Post.
Special screenings at UCCA art center, Beijing, 2011; Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA, 2012.
Featured as part of the 2012 Archaeology Channel International Film and Video Festival in Portland, OR; as part of the 2012 ArchaeologyFest Film Series traveling festival; and will be screened at the XXIII International Festival of Archaeological Films in Rovereto, Italy, on 1-6 October 2012.


Chapter I: A Disappearing World

Chapter II: David vs. Goliath

Chapter III: Beyond the Alleys





At the Desert’s Edge

The threat of desertification is an issue of global concern. In China, expanding deserts are taking a heavy toll on the lives and livelihoods of citizens all across the world’s most populous country. China lost approximately 660,000 squares miles of land to deserts between 2005 and 2009 alone.

While there is not one single solution to combating desertification, Kulun Qi, a dry area in northeastern Inner Mongolia, has shown signs of hope that may eventually work as an example to others adversely affected by encroaching deserts around the world.

At the Desert’s Edge documents the trials and tentative successes of a collaborative effort between locals, governmental initiatives and NGOs fighting to combat China’s growing deserts by planting vast barriers of trees.




2011: The Year of the Rabbit

According to ancient Chinese mythology, an evil spirit known as Nian (年) would terrorize villagers on the first day of the new year. To protect themselves, villagers would create loud noises to ward off the evil spirit. Millennia later, the Chinese still uphold this tradition by setting off fireworks continuously for a two week period.