An Interview with Li Xiaofeng (Director)
In the Shadow of Economic Development, the Truths that Need to be Known
Q: This documentary offered a clear and multifaceted look at the current state of Chinese society. When you made the film, what made you decide to focus on Yulin city?
LX: When I visited Yulin for the first time in 2002, I traveled the several hundred kilometers from Xian to Yulin by bus, and on the way, I saw many trucks abandoned along the road. I wondered how Yulin could be so important to China for its natural resources, and yet be in such a state. I thought there were many things here that needed to be known, and that is when I started gathering information about the region and from the people who worked there.
Q: For each of the three groups of people you portray in this film, you use a different filming style. Why did you choose to do this?
LX: The part about the coal mines illustrates the collapse of the family, the part about the truck drivers deals with their problems with the police but focuses more on the collapse of health, and the part about the “information agency” middlemen illustrates the collapse of trust between people. I felt that this was the right composition for the film, and I varied the filming style to suit the differences between the sections.
Q: Your camera followed the female information agency boss closely, and there seemed to be a relationship of trust between the two of you.
LX: Since she is someone who spends her days working with truck drivers, she’s generally used to dealing with some pretty rough characters. She doesn’t have many opportunities to work with people in the cultural industries, and I think that made her interested in getting to know me. On the other hand, when she and her coworkers encountered problems, I would consider things from their position, and that also helped to build a sense of solidarity between us.
Q: There must have been many information agencies to choose from—what made you settle on hers?
LX: The company that she managed was the most well-liked, and it did a thriving and brisk business—something that I think she achieved through the force of her personality. As you could see, she has a very strong sense of duty, which is why the drivers wanted to work with her company. But as I showed at the end of the film, she was subjected to rent increases and other harassment from outside forces. I think that this was an illustration of one “collapse of trust,” although in spite of everything, she still made the choice to remain in that place . . .
When you consider the current state of society, it’s not impossible to fathom how this kind of “collapse of trust” occurs. With this in mind, I reexamined my reasons for making this film. In the midst of the collapse of family, health, and trust, I considered what these people gained from following the paths that they had chosen, and where they found the meaning in their lives. The Chinese title of this film alludes to the steep price people pay in their quest for money, and whether it’s worth it for them in the end, and it is the answer to these kinds of questions that documentary filmmakers like myself perpetually seek. China has engaged in a single-minded quest for economic development ever since the Chinese economic reform, and I think we must give serious thought to the question of whether this has in fact done anything to improve life for the average Chinese citizen.
(Compiled by Nishiyama Ayuka)
Interviewers: Nishiyama Ayuka, Kimuro Shiho / Interpreter: Nakayama Hiroki / Translator: Kato Lisa Somers
Photography: Oki Kayako / Video: Oki Kayako / 2013-10-15