An Interview with Ye Yun (Director)
Getting Close as an Observer
Q: Tell us about how you developed the original installation piece into a documentary film.
YY: My area has always been public art. When I’m working on a piece perhaps I’m more focused on seeing human beings from the perspective of an observer, and I felt a desire to become this observer. The original installation piece was a simultaneous projection of the lives of different children, one in Beijing and one in a farming village in Hunan. While the contrast between the two screens suggested “disparity” as a particular social problem, this was very much at the surface level, and the complex individuality of the people in the scenes didn’t come through. I spent a long time with these children, and I approached the full-length film thinking I’d like to take in more of the subtleties of their feelings, to focus more on their complexity.
Q: The eyes of Lin Sheng and Xin Yuan when they are searching for the right words, or quietly looking off into space, are striking.
YY: Both of them have very delicate, psychologically complex sides that intrigued me greatly. I think that this comes through quite well in their eyes. It was often a painful feeling, seeing the two of them unable to express their feelings eloquently.
Actually, when I was shooting in the village I was completely unable to understand the Hmongic language that they were speaking. When I went to edit, for the first time I had someone in the village who could use a computer translate for me. Since I didn’t understand the language I think I was able to get closer to them, to focus more on what’s inside.
Q: So you felt that by shooting without understanding the language, you were able to gather better material as an observer?
YY: Not being able to understand the language was never a problem. During editing I learned the contents of their conversations, and looking back to when I was filming I felt that I had been able to feel an affinity in each situation, to share their feelings. On the other hand, while I can comprehend all of the interactions from Beijing, the words felt somehow lighter. I wasn’t able to feel the same sensation of affinity as I had when filming in the village.
Q: You’ve structured the film by intertwining their stories. What kinds of things did you think about when editing?
YY: What I tried to do, formally, was to avoid bringing out the contrast between the urban and the rural. I edited so as to bring the screens together through the emotions and consciousnesses of the film’s subjects. The practical matter of the difference between the urban and the rural is significant, but I think that the method of bringing both screens together was fitting. The reason is because it’s real life. It’s happening in the same China, from the same starting point, so for me this felt like a natural approach.
Q: In the official catalog you wrote: “Meanwhile, it was they who gave me the opportunity to embrace my own childhood.” What kinds of memories and thoughts did they evoke for you?”
YY: It was during the editing that I felt this. Watching the vast amount of material, I felt I was stepping through their world and into my own, entering into my own interiority. The inner world that they are facing up to—I felt as if it overlapped with my own youth. And through this process I began to think I should let myself in.
(Compiled by Miyata Mariko)
Interviewers: Miyata Mariko, Kano Megumi / Interpreter: Higuchi Yuko / Translator: Tyler Walker
Photography: Kat Simpson / Video: Hirai Mona / 2015-10-13