It is twenty years since Old Men was first shown at Yamagata. And it has been a long time since “old men” I filmed, from whom the title of the work is taken, have gone to their eternal rest. But the wonderful thing about film is that we will always be able to meet them, and I have no doubt that they will open their eyes for just a short while and join us in watching the film. They will watch with us the passing seasons we shared together, even as the world was changing. For me, they are still alive. They have just begun sleeping earlier than I.
I trace the starting point of my early years to the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, and I return now in my middle age. Since then, I haven’t made any films to rival this one. If I am allowed twenty more years to live, I will be sure not to waste them so. If YIDFF waits for me, I am certain to catch up.
I acted in theater before I started making documentaries. There are times when it is difficult to remain a passive performer. In particular, it is deeply disheartening to have one’s artistic expression utilized in certain types of advertising. I found where I belonged when I took my camera in hand and went out of the heart of the theater and into the minds of the people in the street. The fog of glamour cleared, and I found myself taking in true beauty and unadorned emotion. How fascinating was this harmonious and egalitarian space, with its absence of lead or supporting actors. The people in my films and all the experiences have been able to teach me so much: about new life and hope, and about pain and its connection to the inevitability of death. I and those in my films have developed a relationship that goes beyond that of ordinary director and subject, and we have come to share and fortify one another’s life forces.
The stories in all of my documentaries deal with things familiar to me. I don’t go far to find a subject. The old men in this film were all my neighbors, while other subjects have included the dancers from the park near my house, the temple in my hometown, and young boys also living nearby. Now I am filming my daughter and her horse-riding friend. I put my trust in things like the beauty and power that turn up in our day-to-day lives. I am interested in finding the out-of-the-ordinary within the everyday—filming this is what characterizes my work. I choose my subject matter based on love at first sight. A movie is a date. Who arrives first at the appointed location and waits? For me, my love grows deeper the more time passes. I’ve been making narrative films too in recent years. I try to film that area that lies between narrative and documentary. Both are film, but narrative films are vainer and require a more systematic approach, so it would seem that I prefer the me that makes documentaries.
Began as a dancer and theater performer and went on to star in Jia Zhangke’s Platform. Her documentaries Old Men (1999), Home Video (2002), Let’s Dance Together (2007), My Neighbors and Their Japanese Ghosts (2008), The Love Story of Lao An (2008), and Wild Grass (2009) have been screened at many film festivals across the world. Old Men (1999) won the juror’s choice award at Cinéma du Réel, a YIDFF ’99 New Asian Currents Award of Excellence, and the Golden Dove award and audience choice award at DOK Leipzig. She has completed two of the films in her narrative film trilogy about women, with Longing for the Rain (2013) screening at many international film festivals, such as the Skip City International D Cinema Film Festival in Japan.
CHINA / 1999 / Chinese / Color / Digital File (Original: SD) / 94 min
Director, Photography, Editing, Producer: Lina Yang Tian-yi
Production Company, Source: Tian Yi Record and Working Studio
For two years the camera follows a group of local elderly people who gather on the same street corner every day, capturing their unhurried movements and listening to their chattering and complaints. Yang’s directorial debut views them affectionately throughout the four seasons in a dusty residential area in the Beijing suburbs.