“Passfire”: There’s a Whole World of Fireworks Out There

A statue of Li Tian, the “grandfather” of fireworks in China

In my last post I discussed the reason and the process of why we chose fireworks as the topic of our new feature documentary, Passfire, a film about the world’s most amazing fireworks and the passionate people who make them. Now I want to elaborate on the concept of the film.

Mention fireworks and two things pop into the mind of most Americans: The Fourth of July and China; the Fourth for obvious reasons and China because, well, everyone knows that’s where fireworks are from.

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There’s no question that these days most fireworks are manufactured in China. From aerial shells and “cakes” (sets of small mortars housed in decorative boxes reminiscent of birthday cakes) to firecrackers and novelty items, the Chinese make most of the fireworks consumed on the earth. Those display fireworks you just watched on New Year’s Eve? Probably made in China. That ring of caps in the cap gun that you told your kids not to shoot inside the house? Very likely made in China. That Saturn Missile Battery sitting in the corner of your garage? Definitely made in China.

Based on the numbers, all this stuff was most likely made in one place in particular: Liuyang, a mid-sized city in Hunan province that produces around 60% of China’s pyrotechnic exports, easily laying claim to the title of “fireworks capital of the world.” Oh, did I mention it’s also where firecrackers were invented?

A worker assembles a “cake” in Liuyang, China

So Liuyang was the obvious place for us to begin production on Passfire. Between factories, history, culture and commerce there is more than enough material for an entire movie and it would be a very interesting film, but it would miss something important, something vital to the concept of Passfire: fireworks aren’t just from China and they weren’t even all invented there.

Did you know for example, that the world’s very best and biggest aerial ball shells (up to three to four feet in diameter, weighing hundreds of pounds and costing tens of thousands of dollars) are manufactured by small artisanal factories in Japan, where the craft was originally developed?

Or that the small Mediterranean island of Malta has the highest density of family-run pyrotechnics workshops on earth turning out truly unique canister shells – a technology originally invented in Europe – that are used in annual fireworks competitions where Catholic parishes try to outdo their neighbors in a fireworks extravaganza?

Inserting golf ball-sized “stars” into a 36″ shell in Japan

How about that the US has around 50,000 pyrotechnics hobbyists who legally make their own fireworks for personal enjoyment at their homes or for display in the country’s myriad annual pyrotechnic competitions?

Then there’s Mexico, with its own manufacturing and annual fireworks festival in Tultepec, honoring the patron saint of pyrotechnics, San Juan de Dios, with huge castillos (pyrotechnic towers) and tequila-fueled bottle rocket fiestas.

And we haven’t even talked about Spain, Italy, Brazil, Thailand, Taiwan, India, Indonesia or Australia and the list goes on and on.

So while China is certainly a huge name in fireworks and has greatly contributed to their development, fireworks as we know them now are the product of many of the earth’s cultures exchanging their knowledge and passion for the human fascination with fire over the centuries. Passfire is a celebration of humanity’s global passion and contributions to fireworks.

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Trained as an aerospace engineer, writer/director Jesse Veverka was a financial analyst on Wall Street before co-founding his own media production company, Veverka Bros. Productions LLC, with his brother Jeremy. He has worked and lived throughout Asia, including Japan, Korea, Indonesia and China, where he has produced a number of award-winning films. His articles have appeared in various publications including CNN Travel, Japan’s Metropolis Magazine and China’s Global Times. He was born in Ithaca, NY. Jeremy Veverka is a media professional with specialties in documentary filmmaking, photojournalism, cinematography, sound design, and commercial work. His award-winning films, including the feature documentary China: The Rebirth of an Empire, cover a range of geopolitical issues and have been screened at dozens of film festivals worldwide. With a degree in English from Cornell University and extensive travel experience throughout Asia and the Middle East, Jeremy brings his background in storytelling and international journalism to each of his projects and strives to give a voice to historically underrepresented groups. To learn more, visit www.jeremyveverka.com or follow Jeremy on Twitter: @JeremyVeverka.