YIDFF 2005 Yunnan Visual Forum in Yamagata
Yunnan Visual Forum Interview
Guo Jing (Director, “Mountaineers,” “Harvest,” “Food for the Buddha” and “Wild Flower Valley” from the series A Legend of Kawakarpo)
Zeng Qingxin (Director, Gebu Sweet Gebu)
He Yuan (Director, The Son Is Not at Home, Hani Textile Arts in Jinping)

Film Mixes Tradition and New Technology

Q: What are your thoughts about the problems in Yunnan and the significance of visual ethnography?

Zeng Qingxin (ZQ): Yunnan has a lot of ethnic minorities, and a big problem is the contradiction of cultural preservation and modernization. I think the issue can be approached from the perspectives of development vs. self-awareness. Development is the most important issue in Yunnan. You can’t disrupt development in order to preserve traditional culture. Preservation that isolates a single place and distances people’s lives from those of us who live in the city, all in the name of protecting culture? Is that acceptable? However, development has a big impact on the traditional culture of ethnic minorities. The government is concerned, and I am thinking about how to preserve traditional culture using the moving image. In the past I had a really narrow perspective on protecting culture through audio-visual arts. But now I think cinema has a lot more possibilities. The problems that Yunnan is grapping with are very big and I don’t have a clear-cut answer, but we think it’s important that we deepen understanding and further dialogue through cinema.

Guo Jing (GJ): First, I’d like to speak based on my own experiences. In the past people traveled to pursue and elevate something internal. In China, travel used to be written with the Chinese characters for “travel” and “going,” so through walking and spending time you would gradually come into direct contact with nature. Now it is written as “travel” and “play,” and all you do is go to a place and have some kind of superficial stimulus. I think both exist in audio-visual representation. Films that are about “travel” and “going” appeal to the self, and aren’t about having external impact. With films that are “travel” and “play,” the finished work is detached from your own sensibilities. This goes for both documentaries and narrative films. Regardless of the method you use to make a film, you can’t change the environment in which you live. But by using a camera, perhaps you can change yourself inside. Also, this is about Yunnan’s issues as seen from community projects, but I’ve felt the importance of a group of people’s cultural problems. At this film festival I’ve seen a lot of films including works dealing with Koreans and Koreans living in Japan, and some films made clear the importance of each group’s identity. I think that is really wonderful.

He Yuan (HY): This is a continuation of what you both have said, but when it comes to preserving traditional culture there’s a negative aspect of sadness in response to the disappearance of tradition. However, there’s also a proactive aspect within modernization and the loss of traditional culture, namely that people living in the present inherit culture and pass it on as something new. For example, I think filmmaking is creating something new while also inheriting something old.

The combination of tradition and new technology is one hope for the future. Tradition isn’t always lost in the process of modernization; rather, it continues while being reborn in a new form. Material culture looks very changeable, but the emotions and ideas that reside inside are different depending on the culture, and I think that they remain within us as things that were passed along from long ago.

ZQ: I don’t think it’s an oppositional relationship of modernization being good or bad. Film captures the possibilities of the things that lie within us. Through film, I think it’s most important to mutually share and understand the experiences and emotions of yourself and the people being filmed.

Q: I’d like to hear about your work.

ZQ: I make films because I’m not able to express myself with words. I don’t know if this gets conveyed to viewers, but I think perhaps at the very least, you can share the emotions that I’ve felt. I am satisfied just if the things that I filmed that moved me also leave an impression on viewers.

GJ: In “Mountaineers,” the first part in the series A Legend of Kawakarpo, before climbing the snow-covered mountain there’s a gate that divides the afterlife from the world we’re living in now. Tibetans enter a different world and come face to face with death when they pass through this gate, so they leave their belongings at the roadside. Going through the gate while traveling brings you closer to the sacred, and when the traveler goes through the world of death and returns again through the gate from which they departed, they are reborn as a new person. For Tibetans, the cycle of death occurs within a single day. “Mountaineers” beings with death, and you draw near to the gate from which you departed in the fourth work “Wild Flower Valley.” This expresses being reborn anew and returning. I don’t clearly understand the process of life and death, but you can see the flow through this piece. I was able to film this by following a mountaineer named Kobayashi as he walked the path of life and death.

HY: In The Son Is Not at Home, I filmed the morning landscape one day from the perspectives of two elderly people. By showing in detail the short span of morning I wanted to portray the difficulties of the two elderly people.

In the work Jade Green Station, the poet-cum-director Yu Jian told me the things he feels looking at contemporary life, and I tried to capture on film the sensibility that he conveyed to me. The director himself filmed some parts, and sometimes I would film without being able to understand what he wanted, even when he asked me to shoot a specific scene. But, he has a unique way of looking at things and understanding life, and he’s able to find poetry in trifling matters. Most likely he feels as poetry everything that he sees in everyday life. I don’t have the ability to draw out poetry, and envy his ability and talent.

Q: What are your impressions of the YIDFF?

GJ: I was thinking about why this film festival has so much influence in Asia, and realized it is because the festival isn’t closed off, and is open to the outside world. And so a lot of different people come to see the films and get to understand the issues. The Yunnan film festival (YUNFEST) needs to learn from Yamgata’s strengths in order to become more open.

(Compiled by Nakajima Ai)

Interviewers: Nakajima Ai, Takayama Marie / Interpreter: Ito Satoru
Photography: Sugawara Daisuke / Video: Saito Kenta / 2005-10-13