India 3: faith and fans in the rice bowl

January 31, 2010

John McCarthy: The Hindu Times, Chennai edition, has plenty of Tamil Nadu news and carries a report revealing that some of M.K. Azhagiri’s billboards have been breaking loose from their moorings and damaging people and property. One banner of the grinning minster landed on top of a rickshaw. Driver and passengers survived but the vehicle sustained some denting.

Saturday 30 January: Tanjavur
Happily there are no flying hoardings about when we film a sequence with a bicycle rickshaw bringing me to the Brihadiswarar Temple. Oddly the machine seems to go faster uphill than down. At first I assume that the driver just doesn’t want to let the machine run away down a long incline, yet when we indicate that a bit more alacrity would suit the filming he nods and gets up to start pumping the pedals for all he’s worth, but to little avail. When we want to do the shot on wide it seems right to get out and help push. The poor man’s life would be transformed with a little help from Messrs Sturmey & Archer. Read the rest of this entry »


India 2: traffic and the first temple

January 30, 2010

John McCarthy takes up the story of filming in India:

Meenakshi Temple, Madurai

Wednesday 27 January: on the streets in Chennai
It’s hard not to lapse into clichés talking about India — because the same things always hit you: the noise, the smells, the traffic, the colours, the chaos and all the people. Yet for all the excitement and shock you realise that there’s also an immediate intimacy about the place. You feel very obviously a stranger but because there are so many other folk dashing about their lives, somehow you get caught up in the throng and become part of it. Even in your own vehicle in a traffic jam. Read the rest of this entry »

India 1: well met in Madurai

January 27, 2010

Carvings on a gateway at Sanchi

We’ve been neglecting this blog for far too long, for which many apologies. Today we start the India filming trip for this second series of Art of Faith, during which our locations will include the carvings at Sanchi, pictured above.

Today, albeit rather briefly, producer Seb Grant takes up the story…

‘Do you think the salad is safe?’

‘What about the chicken? Do you think it’s safe to eat the chicken?’

‘What about the fruit salad? Is that OK?’

Ah yes, the food-paranoia surrounding every meal in India (or is that just me / the Art of Faith crew?) It’s 11pm at night and we (presenter, John McCarthy, cameraman Ian and myself) have got to be up for 5.30 tomorrow morning. This blog is brought to you in association with

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Christians in China

November 26, 2009

John Wyver: We’ve been rather preoccupied over the past week or so with starting to film Macbeth for the BBC and the PBS strand Great Performances. But I have been enjoying the BBC Four series A History of Christianity written and presented by the historian Diarmaid MacCulloch. The first programme (still available on BBC iPlayer) looks at the early development of Christianity in the East and it includes a strikingly vivid sequence towards the end in China with the author and expert on Eastern religions Martin Palmer. Martin Palmer and Diarmaid MacCullogh

Palmer argues convincingly that Christianity established a significant presence in China in the seventh and eight centuries and he takes MacCulloch to a site of what he believes to be a long-lost Christian monastery. Engagingly, they are chased away before being able to film inside the sole surviving building.

Rule of the river crabs

November 17, 2009

John Wyver: Fascinating article by Isabel Hilton from the Guardian today about internet censorship in China and the ways in which users attempt to circumvent it. Prompted by President Obama’s enthusiastic endorsement of freedom of expression during his visit to China, Hilton details how sites such as Twitter are blocked but also how pro-Party bloggers endeavour to counter online criticism. Read the rest of this entry »

A very good introduction

November 16, 2009

Street sign near White Cloud TempleJohn Wyver: Before going to China, I read a clutch of books about the country and its culture — and I’ve been continuing with that, and with an ever greater interest, since coming home. One of the very best is Rana Mitter’s Modern China: A Very Short Introduction, published by OUP in its entirely essential Very Short Introductions series.

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Sunday links

November 15, 2009

Great Wall filming spotI’m still struggling to catch up with my sleep after the return from China — and also to catch up with this blog. I’m bringing across all of the China posts, plus the Japan ones, and aiming to enhance these as well as adding ones about filming plans in the new year. One idea I want to try is a note each Sunday of links I’ve found interesting both in the ongoing research for Art of Faith II and in general reading related to its subject. So here’s a first short selection — and we’ll refine the focus and range as the notion develops over the coming weeks.

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China 16: meeting the master

November 12, 2009

John Wyver writes from Beijing: Ten minutes or so after we arrive at today’s location I succumb to a quiet and personal moment of despair. I can’t see how we are going to get anything from the building site behind and beneath which the White Cloud Temple seems to be hiding. We were hoping that this (usually) beautiful and ancient temple in Beijing would be a key location, along with Taishan, for our approach to Daoism. But the courtyards are crammed with pipes and paving stones, there are workmen everywhere — and Ian can’t see a single shot clear of construction clutter. Added to which, Master Qiu doesn’t want us to show anything of the mess. Read the rest of this entry »

China 15: civilization once stride forward

November 11, 2009

The first impression of Beijing as the flight from Luoyang comes in to land is of snow across the surrounding landscape. According to the Guardian, the blizzard on Sunday was enhanced by the local weather modification service (I’m not making this up!) to ensure that the nearby farmland received the maximum possible water. As we taxi to the gate the plane is alive with the sound of mobiles being switched back on — despite the stern warning over the tannoy prohibiting precisely this. We’re back in China’s capital for the final four days of our trip — and for a good part of the time we’ll get to be tourists.

Beijing T Square with Mao Read the rest of this entry »

China 14: revolution in the air

November 11, 2009

John McCarthy takes a walk in Luoyang: Luoyang is very proud of its peonies. Ning says that one should come in May when the peonies bloom – then the city is beautiful. Yet, even though we are visiting in early November, we do not find the city peony-less. I see two Peony restaurants, a Peony hairdresser and at least one other hotel with peony in the name before we arrive at ours, the Peony Plaza. It’s just across the road from the Luoyang Peony Maternity Hospital. Read the rest of this entry »