An Interview with Feng Yan (Director)
Learning from the Life of a Woman
Q: Please tell us why you decided to film Bingai.
FY: While we were filming about the mass migration problem caused by the Three Gorges Dam project in China, I became interested in the choices the individuals affected by this problem had to make in response to this dramatic change. So we decided to focus our project on four women. One of whom was Bingai. The government stopped public funding for the areas to be flooded in the Three Gorges region, so it is now one of the poorest places in China. Many people have moved to the big cities thinking that their lives would be more prosperous there. Within this context, Bingai stood out as a special character. She was down to earth, had an opinion, and was reflecting on the difference between living in the country and living in the city. Of all the people I met, there was no one else like her. I wanted to know about her childhood, her experiences, and why she made such a choice. I felt like her story was a wakeup call. She consciously decided for herself what to do with her life because she didn’t want to be washed away. I was charmed by her because I have rarely encountered people like that.
Q: Seeing Bingai live for the sake of her family left a strong impression on me. Through observing Bingai, what do you think happiness is for a woman?
FY: She said that she doesn’t consider herself happy as a woman. For her, now, the happiness of her children is her own happiness. In that respect, she is very traditional. But while she protects these traditional morals, she has a life of her own to fulfill. I was drawn to the way she does everything she can to control her own destiny.
There are so many small factors that make up life that it is sometimes hard to tell if you are happy or not. It is extremely difficult to explain what woman’s happiness is when you are struggling to make ends meet in day to day life.
Q: In the last scene, what was the reasoning for using only text rather than images of Bingai now?
FY: Bingai’s very existence is a source of comfort for me. There were waves of people leaving the area without a fight to look for money elsewhere. In the midst of this situation, Bingai had taken a hold of her own destiny and thought through things like her situation, future, heart, and soul. I felt that this was the awakening of her true spirit as a farmer. I could have ended the film with an image of her tent that she lives in now to provide photographic evidence, but I thought that would be taken too lightly. I wanted the audience to know as much as possible about how this person, Bingai, lived against a particular historical backdrop. I didn’t want to just make the film by recording a single incident from the beginning to its end. It would be easy to just end the film by showing her dilapidated tent. However, that would not communicate the depth of the problem. I didn’t want to just chronicle what was happening. The farmers often had quarrels with the government officials, but I didn’t really care to focus on things like that. I wanted this film to focus on the individual. That individual was Bingai.
(Compiled by Hiroya Motoko)
Interviewers: Hiroya Motoko, Hua Chun, Kubota Keiko / Translators: Maxime Berson, Paul Mikaelsen
Photography: Kubota Keiko / Video: Sonobe Mamiko / 2007-10-05