The film A FIRST FAREWELL directed by Wang Lina, a Chinese young director, and produced by Qin Xiaoyu, a poet and director, was shortlisted in the Generation of the 69th Berlin International Film Festival. A FIRST FAREWELL is Wang Lina’s maiden feature film. With its unique poetic realism and recording-based shooting techniques, the film has attracted international attention and won the best film of Asian Future at the 31st Tokyo International Film Festival. The jury believes that the film “perfectly shows the fascination of film and evokes the poetic quality in reality”.
A FIRST FAREWELL is also a gift from the director Wang Lina for her hometown, Shaya, Xinjiang. Taking the life of Aisa, a boy in Shaya, Xinjiang, as a storyline to tell the childhood story of him and his good friend Kelly Binur, the film also presents the touching family affection between him and his diseased mother.
CFM: Can you talk about how the theme and story of A FIRST FAREWELL are created? How do the preliminary survey and documentary work and play their roles? Why do you choose a child’s perspective?
Wang: I have never been trained in the formal film production process. When I filmed A FIRST FAREWELL, I didn’t realize what kind of film it would be. I just, based on my own growth experience, search for my childhood experiences that are exactly fresh and alive in the present.
In a sense, A FIRST FAREWELL is not a standard work with audio-visual language in general, but it is derived from the true expression of the heart. The experience of shooting is a kind of self-discovery for me, which also helps me form my own film beliefs. I think the ideal film is to record the real life, not in shooting techniques, but in the way of sincerely reconstructing and telling the story of life. In my opinion, this is the way the film should go. Realism is nothing of particular importance and its value comes from how we interpret and express it.
How are the theme and story of A FIRST FAREWELL? A possible answer is that it is born from the chaos of all people. What it records is not a completed thought, but the formation of a thought. It is difficult to find it out from the materials provided in reality and find ways to figure out the clues. Art is not logical thinking, nor can it form a set of behavior logic. Instead, art can reflect some premise of faith, just as Blok said: “The poet created harmony from chaos.” Every one gives the answer in his or her own way.
Before the filming of A FIRST FAREWELL, I spent one year tracking and shooting the characters. My most intuitive feeling is that the film art can rely on any facts scattered in time, apply all in life, integrate the materials provided in reality with the time and fix the time in reality with images. I once filmed a piece of material of Aisa’s father went to school to find Aisa. It was very moving, and the character’s behavior logic, feelings, and explosive power were very accurate and to the point. This experience has become the storyline and form of acting of A FIRST FAREWELL.
The reason of telling the story from a child’s perspective is that my emotion is stimulated due to my similar childhood experiences. More importantly, children have a more free outlook on life. With very intuitive perspective, they don’t describe the world, but discover the world. They rarely think about their own appearance and voice in the world, and don’t care about conventions and traditions, so that the way they look at problems always gives you surprise and natural innocence.
CFM: What was the hardest part during the film creation process? How did you overcome it?
Wang: For me, the process of turning ideas into a film is long and arduous. As you can’t fundamentally change the way non-professional actors handling roles, you have to make sure you choose the right actors.
All the actors in A FIRST FAREWELL are non-professional, so it is a great challenge for me to choose them. Actors are the soul of a film, so that the successful casting means more than half of the film is done. If the candidate is right, you can’t believe how easy the filming is. So it actually took me a long time to choose the actor, and I experienced both surprises and regrets during that period. Non-professional actors may only play one kind of role well, that is, themselves. They can do amazingly well, but can also make you frustrated. For example, we can only give up a very good child, because we can’t convince the parents to agree to the filming by all means, and continue to search. In other cases, it feels good when you choose the actor, but once you start shooting, he will be uncomfortable in front of the camera. You need to make a decision on whether to give up or continue to wait for long and make adjustment in a reasonable way. How to let the actors forget that they are in the filming and capture the real touching moments in the film is actually subtle and very difficult. Once non-professional actors are chosen, your shooting needs to make a compromise with non-professional actors. For example, if you select an actor in advance, every one are all in place for shooting, but he is absent from shooting for various reasons such as the sheep in his house are lost, and he is in bad mood. At this time, you need to learn to wait, and shoot again at another right time.
CFM: Why did you choose Uighur language in dialogue? How to guide children without acting experience into the settings?
Wang: The Uighur language is chosen because they communicate in Uighur in their life.
To do the filming of children, you must adjust yourself to their level and speak in their language, establish intimate connections with them, and then let them be themselves.
Making children act is not advocated by me, so I never ask them to act. They even don’t know that I am the director. I will downplay all the elements related to the film. Emotions should guide the movements of actors, not the other way around. If you want the actor to cry, you must provoke that emotion in him, especially for the crying of child actors.
When I am with a child actor (non-professional), I don’t ask them to act. I even downplay such form signals as starting and finishing filming. I want them to believe in the authenticity of what has happened, design and create credible environment and events in advance. Reality and fiction must be merged to make reality a starting point and lead to actor’s lines. At that moment, the emotions and expressions of the actors are their own.
When I was filming A FIRST FAREWELL, there was a scene that Kelly Binour was late for school. I arranged everything in advance, setting the alarm time late, and letting the mother wake up the children later and tell the girl to help her younger brother with his homework. Then I told the teacher in advance that Kelly Binour would be late for school, and the teacher would teach her a lesson. Only the mother and the teacher knew what was arranged, and all the children and classmates did not know. When Kelly Binur was really late, standing outside the classroom door anxiously and waiting to open the door, all her movements (biting her lips and kicking her feet) and emotions (eye tears) at that moment were triggered by her real emotions at that moment. When the bell rang, the teacher opened the door and taught her a lesson, which arose all her emotions. So her tear and sorrow were very real. She didn’t know that it was a prearranged play until the filming was completed.
CFM: How should the current film creation themed on ethnic minorities attract young viewers?
Wang: If you are filming with sincerity, your work will contain your personality elements. As for the filming themed onethnic minorities, I am more moved by the part of telling similarities between them and the world, the same joy, the same anxiety and the same hope, than the difference between people. The minoritiesshould be alive and breathing, even with the feature of routine.
In a certain sense, A FIRST FAREWELL is reshaping the daily life from a primitive perspective, and is returning to the exploration of normal state of “humans”. In specific, it is expected that A FIRST FAREWELL would have the unique charm of regional customs and the universal resonance of emotions. For example, children’s love for mother, pure friendship and the childhood joy and farewell can arouse the sympathy of audiences of any age at home and abroad.
CFM: In recent years, Tibetan films have been popular; in contrast, films themed on Xinjiang are still scarce. What are the unique cultural elements of Xinjiang? What are the potentials in the development of film and TV dramas?
Wang: In fact, the early children’s film THE DRUMMER FROM FLAME MOUNTAIN in Xinjiang is very good, and it is rarely seen in recent years. Known as the Western Region in ancient times, Xinjiang is a romantic fairyland where Eastern and Western cultures meet and the four great civilizations are intermingled. More than a hundred years ago, the American anthropologist Morgan wrote in his book ANCIENT SOCIETY that: The Tarim River Basin is the cradle of world civilization. If anyone could find the golden key left by ancient history in Taklimakan, the door to world cultures would be opened. Arnold Toyhbee also said: “If life could come again, I would be willing to be born in the Tarim Basin, because it is the place where four great civilizations of mankind meet. ”
On the edge of the Taklimakan Desert located at 82 degrees east longitude, Niya is in the south and Shaya is in the north. My hometown Shaya is an oasis in the Taklimakan. It runs across the Silk Road and is one of places where the world’s four great civilizations meet, namely, the Chinese culture of Central Plains, the Buddhism culture of South Asia, the Arabic culture of Persia, and the Greek and Roman Culture. Shaya, also known as the Eternal City, has survived for two thousand years in the ruins and deserts. It is also the home of human civilizations. Whether it is the unique charm of regional customs or the cultural customs, there are many possibilities for creation within this territory of Xinjiang.
CFM: In the future, what kind of subjects and types of creation do you want to try?
Wang: My second work is still created in my hometown. As for the future, it is a process of exploration that never ends.
Wang: I have only been to the Tokyo International Film Festival and I feel very good. A friend at the Tokyo International Film Festival said: “A poetic film is first done by the director and then in the mind of audience, so you don’t need to explain anything. If the audience watch your film and interpret it not in your intentions, then you all profit from it. Once a film is completed, its creators should let it go. ” I was very touched by the special feeling. Art should be like this.
Thanks to my experience in attending the film festival, I have become more convinced in my film beliefs, and greatly encouraged after watching more excellent works. On this long road of film, persistent efforts should be made.
(Editor: Guan Yu)