An Interview with Chung Kam-tong (Director)
Preserving Past Tradition and Culture
Q: When did you start going to Kunming in Yunnan? Can you also tell me how you got interested in falconry and why you decided to make a film about it?
CK: I started visiting Yunnan in 1996. My full-time job is a freelance photographer and I took photos of falconry in 2001 and published them in a magazine. Falconry is very dynamic in terms of movement and I found it interesting. I developed a desire to make a documentary film about this practice.
I regret that a variety of traditional things have been lost over recent years as China has been developing so rapidly. I hope that not only the tradition of falconry but also a lot of other traditional cultural practices will survive somehow. I have taken photos of a variety of subjects including falconry. Through my work, I became close to three families I showed in this film as I went to Lijiang every year. Then I started thinking that I wanted to record our close relationship not only in photography but also in documentary film.
Q: What do you think about the importance of inheriting traditional culture?
CK: When it comes to preserving traditions, individual power is not strong enough. I am originally of the Hakka people, and we have spread our connections all over the world. I used to talk with my parents in Hakka at home, but my children cannot speak this language. The Hakka language will die out in our generation. It’s an extinction, isn’t it. Like a topographic fault, a huge cultural fault will come into being. This makes me feel that I am responsible for passing down our traditions to the next generation. As for falconry, I was so concerned that it might vanish some day.
Q: How much are the young Nakhi interested in falconry?
CK: That’s the problem. “Having a hawk on your arm” has become a trend. However, it’s just a temporary fashion. A young guy named Yang Li-wei who played the main character in my film is able to fix up a transmitter well, but those younger than he cannot. They just buy a hawk and have it on their arm to show it off. They don’t do falconry.
In the old days, only wealthy people could afford to do falconry. It’s not something you could find everywhere. The Nakhi people are exceptional. They have a very interesting culture and tradition but you never know how much of it will survive in the future. There is little data on falconry. I tried to get a lot of information about it and learned from the Nakhi whom I got to know well. Yang Li-wei particularly taught me a lot and I am now able to distinguish female hawks. Meeting a lot of people and getting knowledge and learning from them is a very intriguing process.
Every time I go to Lijiang, they ask me if my documentary has completed. They must think it’s taking so long to shoot. I have nothing with which to repay their kindness and help, so I will show this film as a token of my appreciation.
(Compiled by Kimuro Shiho)
Interviewers: Kimuro Shiho, Xie Mingming / Interpreter: Higuchi Yuko / Translator: Okazaki Ikuna
Photography: Suzuki Hiroki / Video: Ito Ayumi / 2009-10-12