Filmmaker Jonathan Bregel Captures the Chinese Citizens of Shanghai’s People’s Park

Posted on June 1, 2019


Filmmaker Jonathan Bregel’s beautifully observed documentary of 36 hours in Shanghai’s People’s Park is paradise for people watchers.

There’s nothing quick about Jonathan Bregel’s 45 minute documentary on the pace of life inside Shanghai’s People’s Park. It’s not ‘Slow TV’ either. ‘People’s Park’ is a document of Chinese life in public places.

Dancing, fishing, playing musical instruments, Mah Jong or cards, practising Tai Chi and exercising – the crowds and individuals who flock to the park are caught on camera seemingly without noticing the filmmaker in their midst.

Bregel’s films have received more than 11 million views as well as seven Vimeo staff picks. His latest was filmed in 36 hours on a Sony a7s II camera over the course of six days in June 2018.

The park has personal attraction to Bregel as it was where he and his fiancé had their first date in April 2017.

Shot in 4:3 rather than HD’s 16:9 aspect ratio, shot without dialogue (outside of incidental speech) and paced to capture people engaged in their natural rhythms, Bregel said the film was “a reaction to a gear/tech frenzied commercial filmmaking culture. I desperately needed to get back in touch with my raw curiosity as a filmmaker.”

“I chose to shoot in 4:3 specifically because it gave me more control over what’s inside the frame. One of my goals with the film was to make every shot feel like it took place within an oasis of greenery. Because of this goal, I needed to frame very intentionally to not show all of the buildings that exist around and above the perimeter of the park.”


Holi Man

Contrast that with his immense coverage of the Holi Festival – the Hindu festival of colour – that takes place in spring in India and among Hindus in other countries.

Here Bregel marries his excellent camera technique with hardcore tech in the form of the Phantom Flex 4K camera, which shoots in UHD at 1,000 frames per second. There’s something beautifully meditative and other-worldly about these images.

The Flex incidentally costs around £100,000 to buy… decidedly more material than spiritual.