Jia Zhangke is widely regarded as the leader of the 'sixth generation', a group of Chinese filmmakers who have, outside the state-regulated studio system, been looking at the rapid industrialisation of China since the early 1990s, often critically. What is regarded by others as collateral damage – the forced eviction of people from villages to build a dam, the increasing emotional detachment between relatives – is the source of Jia's stories. You could call it an alternative history of China.

Director, scriptwriter and producer Jia (1970, China) grew up in Fenyang in the Chinese province of Shanxi. After graduating from the film academy in Beijing in 1997, he realised that there were no films about rural life where he grew up. So many of his films find their story outside the metropolises of Hong Kong and Shanghai. With his feature debut Pickpocket (1998) he immediately received awards worldwide. The aesthetic severity in early films like Platform (2000) and Unknown Pleasures (2002), with long, static shots and characters always put in a larger frame, has been abandoned in his more recent films such as A Touch of Sin (2013) and now Ash Is Purest White. The narrative lines are more dramatic, the relationship between the camera and the characters more intimate. In this masterclass, he talks about his approach and takes a closer look at Ash is Purest White, his most wide-ranging and expensive film up until now.