The Making Of
Director Xiaolu Guo discusses the challenges of creating experimental narratives, shooting in minus-35 degree weather and the need to rethink fiction and documentary film conventions.
What led you to make this film?
There were two original desires in the beginning before making the film. One was to portray an imaginary landscape based in a remote Chinese village; another was to portray a writer who is living in an alternate reality.
What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?
How to construct two film languages—documentary and drama—in one interior rhythm. Since the film is about an abstract runaway journey the writer imagined, I needed to find the inner link between these two realities through very documentary-like footage.
How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film?
Rao Hui, the writer, is my close friend in real life in Beijing. He was very much involved in the creative side of making the film. We filmed him discussing the story with me and we thought that might also be part of the film.
In terms of documentary part, on the train and in the village of Mohe, we made friends with simple people, peasants, school students, and they had no problems talking in front of the camera. They are true village people without media self-consciousness.
What didn’t get included in your film that you would have liked to show?
The fiction part. We filmed more fiction between Lin Hao, the running man and the woman in red—how they met and how they spent some tender moments together. But we didn’t use it in the final film because the documentary parts were much stronger in revealing the social reality of China.
Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.
The couple eating fish scene. We loved the fact that the couple in Mohe ate the fish for 20 minutes without any consciousness of the film crew in their kitchen. We recorded the whole process as they ate the fish, and in the final film we only used three minutes as one shot for that scene. I think that scene shows the power of documentary. When the subjects trust the filmmaker, you will gain the truth about life and the reality you want to reveal through them. As you know, the kitchen relationship and food culture in a family are one of the most important things in Chinese culture.
What has the audience response been so far? Have the people featured in the film seen it, and if so, what did they think?
The responses are very good, lots of intellectual discussions. The writer himself saw the film, of course, because we edited the film together. The responses in Europe, especially in Paris, Rotterdam and Vienna, were very positive and dear. The film aroused discussion about the language of documentary and fiction filmmaking, the filmmaker’s attitude approaching reality and the themes he/she wants to explore.
The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
I believe that one has to do something from one’s own heart and own desire, but not necessarily a desire from the market and the force of the production or propaganda. I really believe if I can carry on a certain honesty and genuine passion in my story and the subjects I want to reveal, I will receive encouragement and deep understanding. The intellectual environment is dying nowadays, but I try to keep careful eyes and ears to listen to those voices and to be with them mentally. That’s something an artist really needs to do.
What do you think of the current state of documentary and fiction filmmaking?
I think documentary form as cinema has to be reformed and reinvented, to separate from normal TV journalism films. I also believe that fiction film language has to be reinvented, to learn from documentary filmmaking. I don't believe any one dimension of reality “talks” anymore.
What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?
Everything and nothing—because filmmaking is a process full of pity and regret. What is important is to make something from what you have got, not from what you haven’t got.
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