An Interview with He Yuan (Director)
Fieldwork to Cinematography
Q: Why did you decide to film Apuda and his dying father?
HY: Apuda’s father was a well-known singer of the Nakhi tribe in the Yunnan region. I was interested in the music of this region, so my initial plan was to capture his aura as an artist along with his personal life. Unfortunately, he was already 85 years old and his body was deteriorating. However, before the filming process actually began, I started to notice Apuda’s peculiar presence, which led me to believe that it would be more interesting to film their father-son relationship through Apuda. Initially, I was not using a tripod, but I gradually started to think that what I wanted to do was to show their natural movement, so I went on to use fixed shots. I focused on Apuda’s daily life of taking care of his father.
Q: I heard that you were studying Visual Anthropology?
HY: I had always wanted to study film in college, but the only place where you could learn about it in my region was at Yunnan University’s Visual Anthropology Department. Studying ethnology here was what gave me the opportunity to meet with Apuda’s father, but while focusing on my research on small tribes in China, I came to notice how wonderful the ethnic music of Yunnan, where I grew up, was. This eventually led me to understand that all tribes have their own distinctive characteristics in all aspects of culture, including music. But I felt uncomfortable studying Visual Anthropology. I wanted to capture the spirituality or the internal emotions of the people, much like literature or art, but the approach of Visual Anthropology was more focused on the data representation of material things, such as garments, crafts or tools. During fieldwork, I felt discomfort with the need to use surveys or routine questionnaires, even when we could establish relationships with the people. The objective of Visual Anthropology is to document things. But I love film, and I felt the potential of being able to use cinematic techniques to capture their spiritual world. For example, like I said before, because Apuda does not have much movement and mostly uses fixed shots, I structured it so that sounds would be able to compensate for the lack of visuals. One of my favorite directors, Robert Bresson explains that the autonomous coexistence of sound and imagery are very effective in his book Notes on Cinematography. By following these words, I believe that I was able to capture the transition of the emotions within Apuda, as he took care of this father, coping with the difficulty of not being able to focus on his own work, and grew to accept his father’s death.
Q: Why is the bed shown so often in the film?
HY: I felt that that room, where both of them live together was the place that most effectively expressed their internal emotions. There is a close-up scene from a low angle of Apuda’s father in bed, and I can see that there is definitely the spiritual interaction between Apuda and his father there. As a matter of a fact, I shot Apuda’s father’s funeral as well, but while looking at it during the editing process, I felt that this “ritualistic” funeral was something that was external to them rather than internal, so I left it out of the film. By capturing their intimate relationship through cinematic techniques, I hope that I was able to not only show their lifestyle, but also express the emotions felt being “alive,” for all people and for them in particular.
(Compiled by Iwai Nobuyuki)
Interviewers: Iwai Nobuyuki, Watanabe Kazutaka / Interpreter: Akiyama Tamako
Photography: Hirose Shiori / Video: Ichikawa Eri / 2011-10-07