Conversation with Jia Zhangke
1995 when I was attending the second year of the Cinema
Academy, I and other ten schoolmates already wanted to
shoot a movie, but funds and opportunity failed. So we
did found the Youth Experimental Film Group and self-produced
3 shorts. We did start to work together to practise, to
think about movies and discuss about it. In this group
there were the script-writer, the producer, the cameraman,
the sound-track technician, the director: we did organize
to form a complete band. The goal was to archive one way,
an opportunity to produce the film and to try to fill
the gap in the documentary and sperimental genre. We did
shoot a first documentary called "One day
in Peking", then "Xiao Shuai
hui jia" and as last "Dudu";
after that, "Xiao Wu". The
main members of this group keep working with me nowadays
and are my most important collaborators, like for example
the assistant director.
Indipendent cinema has lived until now 2 very important
moments. The first at the beginning of the 90's. In that
time many new young directors appeared, who sought to
express with new and freer forms, suffocated and frustrated
as they were by a too binding system. The second, is the
one born 2 years ago. Its importance is due to the fact
of having contributed to the developement of the documentary
genre and digitals films. In any case I speak of my own
experience which is not representative of the scene, since
I've been lucky having not found economical difficulties.
Xiao Wu has been completed in 1998 and the following
year it has been screened at the Cinema Festival of Berlin.
In January 1999 the chinese goverment forbade me to shoot
at other film. To me it represented a huge obstacle, since
it meant an illegal act, if I was going to screen my movie.
I felt deeply anguished, because Xiao Wu
is a chinese story and I would have enjoyed my public
to be chinese. This prohibition made lose my public. While
preparing Zhantai, we serched for a dialogue
with the goverment, hoping to find a solution. Unfortunately,
neither this film was appreciated by the goverment and
I found myself in a bad mood while producing the movie.
Anyway, I'd underline something: this kind of prohibition
was not so hard, since they didn't forbid me to shoot
the movie, but only to project it in China. So I consider
these obstacles less harmful for me, since I'm always
free to shoot a film, but certainly they are to the chinese
culture; infact chinese public can't see real life in
movie. There's a huge depression in cinema field, and
all this due bureaucratic control system which prevents
creation and investments. Censorship can change to its
own pleasure a work and to forbid the public projection,
therefore we have no guarantee both artistically and financially.
The present-day condition of chinese movies industry is
activity cannot be guaranteed inside of China. I need
an open space and international one, because I've got
to find some investors. I've choosen Hong Kong, since
it still keeps free spaces and plus it's a chinese place
and this help my communication. So we have come to decision:
to establish our seat in Hong Kong. This to me sounds
like an optimum compromise, since it's difficult to count
on international collaborations in Peking.
Every year there are at least 10 directors who undertake
a career in th e indipendent and digital cinema. And this
new flow turned out to be a particular influence: it has
interrupted that traditional control on the production,
since these film are very cheap, and it has also succeded
with the problem of censorship.
are always more artists who choose such a way. The new
directors are like me, they self-finance and generally
they don't find real investment. For example, as far as
my experience is concerned, I use my own money to shoot
a film. This doesn't represent a normal investment, it's
only a self-satisfaction of my own creativity. As an example,
if you feel like wanting a film to be produced, but you
don't have the funds to accomplish this dream of yours.
This is not a business, it's not considered a normal investment.
In China you can find directors, but not "west-producers",
according to the western meaning, since chinese goverment
doesn't allow it in that sense.
in “Zhantai” and “Xiao Wu”
there are many songs. All of the “Zhantai”
songs own to 80’s and they describe us the change from
this point of view. At the beginning there’s a passage
called “The train leaves toward Shao Shan”, the bird place
of Mao Ze Dong. It was written to praise and extol Mao.
It was in ‘79, right after the end of the Cultural Revolution,
when china was closed and still followed Mao’s indications.
In that time everybody knew this song. To me this is the
start-point of the movie. As long as the film goes on,
the protagonist listen to Teng Li Jun music, and this
was a reality of these years, since it was not yet permitted
a private life in China. With the coming of the Teng’s
songs, as last a true and genuine mass-culture came into
China, and this was a signal for the government, indicating
the need of a own-popular-cultur for China. Another song
comes next, titled “Meeting of the young friends”.
In the 80’s after people lost hope in the future and in
government due to the Cultural Revolution, the Party let
an advertising song be composed, to tell the people that,
in a 20 years, approximately in 2000, China would have
accomplished its 4 “Modernizations” : in the industrial
and in agricultural field, national defense, and in science
and technology field, to become at last a modern country.
Every song in the film shows and voices a social class
and contains the cultural meanings of that period.
the story of a whole decade, precisely the 80’s, from
1979 to 1992, starting with the cultural Revolution and
ending with Tian an Men slaughter, both representing 2
dramatic changes. China
has just begun its first contacts with the West. There
came to be rather vivid cultural changes, for example
the year before you could talk about television as an
abstract image and the following year everybody owned
it; the people who previously worked in a state company
in a 5 year period started to undertake their own business.
In the course of the 10 years, ideology underwent a clear
change. Prior to ‘79 people couldn’t watch a western movie;
5 years later you could find in a lost chinese village’s
stall, books on european philosophy such as Nietzche.
You could easily find Pasolini’s tapes and VCD, and this
period wich corresponds to my adolescence was a moment
of strong growth and maturity to me. Chinese state has
undertaken a considerable change; I had a strong wish
then to show this age in a film.
I believe chinese cinema will have a total change. This
day is always closer, and not because I ‘m deceiving myself
about this system, but because I think it’s a period of
big transformations, communications, we have internet,
and you can’t control anymore systematically the thoughts
and people’s ideas, therefore I’m optimist and think chinese
cinema will certainly have its creative freedom. Guys
have more courage, strong creativity and can change this