An Interview with Meng Xiaowei (Director)
The Environment and Its Value
Q: Tell us about your filmmaking process and what you were going through at that time.
MX: I lived in Shanghai and was involved in photography and painting. I happened to visit this village on the way to my hometown, when I was looking for subjects for my artwork. I was impressed by what I discovered there, and bought a video camera upon my return to Shanghai, determined to film the place. When I visited again 3–4 years later, the village had changed and I felt the energy of the people had deteriorated. Living in Shanghai at the time, I wasn’t able to spend lengthy blocks of time there. I wanted to capture the rhubarb harvest throughout the four seasons, and it took me three years to achieve that.
Q: Why did you change your title from To Leave or To Stay to Thatched Cottages on the Enclave?
MX: My first title means something like “I want to leave but it’s hard.” Villagers moved to this village and tried hard for 20 years to alter the situation, but in the end not much has changed. The title relayed the dilemma of being caught in that orientation. But then I thought perhaps that meaning was too narrow for this film and decided on the current title which I think encompasses something larger. This title is not just about escaping but about the village environment. It’s something I have been thinking about for a long time. “Thatched Cottages” refer to the huts where rhubarb is kept for storage. Rhubarb rots easily if you leave it outdoors after harvest, so it must be kept under a roof until the following year when it can finally be sold as medicine. The time and labor involved in this process has to do with the environment that I am talking about.
Q: You are thinking of the villagers’ livelihood when you talk about the environment, aren’t you?
MX: Villagers form a community that shares a common destiny and purpose. When you see this film, you will understand that the environment includes society in general. Some may feel my strong criticism about society. One observation is what politics has done to the village. The villagers are farming these crops because they want financial gain. But reality is, they are not paid a fair price. I feel their labor should be rewarded and a proper rate assessed. In any case I do think that the film, through showing both western and shamanistic methods, succeeds in depicting the ambivalence of the people, who rely on western medicine but are unable to discard traditional superstitions.
Q: To leave or not to leave? What do you think?
MX: It is something I have indeed thought about, but in the end it is up to the villagers and the government. They are trying to achieve wealth through limited land and resources. Even a little improvement in their living standards is enough. That judgment is beyond me as an individual. The government and politics must take on the challenge.
(Compiled by Tsuchida Shuhei)
Interviewers: Tsuchida Shuhei, Hanaoka Azusa / Interpreter: Akiyama Tamako / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Onuma Ayaka / Video: Tanaka Miho / 2011-10-08