An Interview with Wang Bing (Director)
Neither an Event, Nor a Story:
Making a Movie about One Woman, Fengming
Q: Of all the people you could have filmed, why did you choose Fengming?
WB: It’s because I was close to her. There is a reason why I respect her so much. She is one of the people who are willing to face the past decades and tell people about it. There are many others who have experienced the same thing but do not want to face it, much less talk about it. When I was making Tie Xi Qu, I was filled with the pride that I was doing a radical thing as an artist and an intellectual. But when I met her and saw the scale of what she’s doing, her views on life, and her deep reflections on the world, I felt very small. In the future, when people look back on the history of the 90s until now, they will surely understand that those who really made contributions to our society are not the intellectuals but rather people like Fengming. The few decades from 1949 until today have been unprecedented in China’s history. Having these women talk about their life experiences allows us to get a more real and objective impression of the past. We can also learn how the people lived in those days.
Q: Most of the time the camera is focused on Fegming talking. Why did you adopt this style?
WB: By making a complicated movie I would have drifted away from Fengming the individual, and the movie’s subject would have changed. It wouldn’t have been a movie about her but a movie about an incident, or a story. The reason I didn’t want to put her inside a story was that I wasn’t a direct witness to her life story, nor would I want to become one. That is because I didn’t witness her life directly so I am not qualified to become a witness. She is the only one who can be a direct witness to her life. I was content with her continuing to talk about her life and me recording it. I didn’t feel it was necessary to prove the reality of this incident by intentionally inserting things like pictures. The future generations will have many ways to learn about those days, like books, pictures, movies and documents. Documents are there to verify the authenticity of the facts. More than that, I think that people like her talking about their experiences and reflecting on them are the real truth. I think that their sensitivity and their way of thinking can become a bridge to the past they have experienced. To know their thoughts is to know those days. If you want to learn about history, it is more important to know how they thought, even more so than documents.
Q: I sensed a parallel between the room getting darker and the changes in the life of Fengming. What was your intention with that scene?
WB: I think that by sitting in this room with her it was more than two human beings talking, it was more like two souls having a conversation. As dusk came the room became darker, but even if I couldn’t see her face so clearly anymore, having her talk in this safe and confined space, in this tranquility, was so beautiful that I decided not to turn on the lights, nor operate the camera to make the room appear brighter. If you watch this on a big screen you can probably feel the quiet beauty of the tranquility created by this darkness.
(Compiled by Kubota Keiko)
Interviewers: Kubota Keiko, Hua Chun, Sato Hiroaki / Interpreter: Hua Chun
Translators: Maxime Berson, Christopher Gregory
Photography: Sato Hiroaki / Video: Sato Hiroaki / 2007-10-05