An Interview with Huang Wenhai (Director)
It Never Felt Like I Was Filming Someone Else
Q: How did you get to meet the four artists?
HW: I met Li Wake when I was editing my first film, Suburbs of Beijing, which was a narrative film, and I reunited with him at a film festival in 2004. He told me that he was going to help an artist friend of his shoot a film, and asked me if I could be his technical consultant. So I went to a city in Henan Province with him, and I met and filmed various artists there for about a month.
Q: Why did you select these four artists in the end?
HW: Because the four of them had the most close-knit relationships with one another, had very strong ties with one another. I had footage of many different artists at the editing stage, but I found a certain commonality among these four. First of all, Li comes to help a painter named Wan Yongping shoot a film. Ding Defu, who now makes a living as a teacher, is in fact a painter, and was extremely popular at the time of the New Wave of ’85. But he was marginalized in the art world when the New Wave was over, for personal and social reasons. Bei Bei is a young poet, and as such has the same kind of passion for art that Ding had back in ’85, so he is like a mirror image of Ding, while Li’s existence seems as though it were floating up in the air. I focused my attention to their situation in society like this, which was quite peculiar.
In China, the ’80s was a very liberal era for artists, and they felt it in the air that they were really playing a part in the social reforms and liberations through their production. However, starting in ’89, they shifted their artistic direction to expressing themselves only for themselves, and a social gap was created. In other words, it seemed like they materialized my own views and ideas about the Chinese intelligentsia.
Q: Why did you choose black and white?
HW: When we were editing the swimming pool scene, we tweaked the colors so much as to turn it into black and white, and it acquired an atmosphere like it was a river in Hell. I liked it very much, so the decision was made to opt for black and white.
Q: Is this meant to be the second of the “Trilogy of the Messes”?
HW: The theme of the first one, Floating Dust, was ordinary people living in China. I shot the intelligentsia in this film, Dream Walking, which is the second. I filmed the third one, which consists of two parts, with religion and politics in mind.
Q: Why do you point your camera to people throughout the “Trilogy of the Messes”?
HW: Through my works, I aim to express how I understand my own times. In order to achieve that, the most important thing to do comes down to filming people. I believe that humanity never changes, no matter in what country, or under what regime. People despair, complain of the unreasonableness of the world, like the artists in my film, and that is something anyone in any country can understand. There are always people like that, no matter where you are. I have never felt like I was shooting someone else. Watching my subjects, I always felt like I was watching myself. Therefore, I watch people, in order to watch myself at the same time.
(Compiled by Yamamoto Shoko)
Interviewers: Yamamoto Shoko, Sonobe Mamiko / Interpreter: Higuchi Yuko / Translator: Ann Yamamoto
Photography: Sonobe Mamiko / Video: Shimizu Kai / 2007-10-05