The Ewenki Way of Life
Q: In this interview I would like to ask you about Yuguo and His Mother, which featured in New Asian Currents, as well as the Special Invitation Film Aoluguya, Aoluguya . . .. How did you come to make these two films about the Ewenki people?
GT: I made these films because of my father, a photographer who shot in Aoluguya from 1960, where the Ewenki and Orochon live. He would say, “Bye now!” and leave home, not returning for three months or half a year. He’d come back full of life, his appearance little different from that of the ethnic minorities. This remains in my memory, and I’ve come to embrace a vague longing for people who lead primitive hunting lifestyles. What my father shot was different from “art;” his pictures were pure records. He was aware from 1960 of the importance of recording changing lifestyles, and worked to do just that. As for me, I was drawing pictures in the fine arts department of a university in Beijing, but I couldn’t get used to the Beijing trend of making work to match the wishes of the market. I felt I wanted to depict something close to my roots, so I returned home. At that time my father said, “I wonder how they are doing in Aoluguya,” so I went and visited the people in his photographs. That was 2003, when the government was moving minority logging communities to the plains under The Ecological Migration policy. I was confronted with the forced relocation of the Ewenki, which prevented them from doing their normal jobs. I was shocked, and started using images to document their situation more comprehensively.
Q: In Yuguo and His Mother, was there a concrete event that made Yuguo’s relationship with his mother into a film?
GT: I have been shooting films since 2004 that depict the lifestyles of ethnic minorities in northern China, and I have tried to do so by reflecting what’s inside peoples’ hearts. I pointed my camera at Liuxia, who has rich emotions and expresses them frankly. The winter in Aoluguya is cold, and she drinks every day, calling out Yuguo’s name when she does. Her son’s Chinese name is “Yuguo,” but in the local language it means “sun,” and she would always look at the sun and remember her boy. I was deeply touched by her behavior, and wanted to record it. I wasn’t shooting to make a documentary; it might be more apt to say I shot her out of desire to record that heartache. Yuguo lives in a city far to the south and can only meet his mother once every few years. Watching him on his way home, I saw his ethnic blood stir and his behavior change. Yuguo travelled in a sleeping car, and he slept in the bed at first. But as we went further north he would begin sleeping on the floor. There was something in this behavior I felt I wanted to record.
I shot this film wanting to aid this reunion of mother and son, but did not have enough funding to do so. At that time a woman in Shanghai who saw Aoluguya, Aoluguya . . . said she wanted to help, and she provided my travel expenses. She called out to her friends, who offered even more support. I don’t know what documentary can do concretely, but I think it can enlighten people one-by-one and inspire them to action.
(Compiled by Iwai Nobuyuki)
Interviewers: Iwai Nobuyuki, Horikawa Keita / Interpreter: Akiyama Tamako / Translator: Kyle Hecht
Photography: Onuma Ayaka / Video: Kimuro Shiho / 2011-10-10