An Interview with Chan Yin Kai (Director)
Persevering through the “Three Valleys” of Life
Q: When you film the people of Choi Yuen village, they respond with friendly words and tell you their true feelings, and you clearly have a good relationship with them. The scene of the guards and workers trampling their fields, while the villagers weep and attempt to stop them, brought tears to my eyes. How did you yourself feel at that time?
CY: This documentary is the third film in a three-part series, and the way I went about the filming gradually changed. By the time of this third film, I had developed a close relationship with the villagers, and at the beginning, I put my camera aside so that I could help the villagers protest against being evicted from their land. As for the second film, when I showed it to the villagers, they wanted to know why I didn’t show scenes of them worrying and weeping.
At the time, I had felt that it would be disrespectful to film such scenes. My desire to be compassionate would not allow me to be objective, and I would turn off my camera. However, the words of the villagers helped me to realize that my role was that of the documentarist, and it was my duty to record everything. But during protests, it was necessary to ensure the safety of the elderly and do many things in addition to the filming, which made my job difficult.
I consulted with the villagers during the making of this documentary, and I filled it with the things that they wanted to say. When I screened the film in other places, I took the opinions and reactions of the viewers back to the village, which enabled them to have an “exchange of ideas” with outside people—and I think that this is what documentaries have the power to make happen.
Q: What originally motivated you to make these films?
CY: In 2000, when I was a university student, forced relocations brought about by urban development were taking place across Hong Kong. That was when I heard about the protests in Choi Yuen village, and I wanted to do something to help. Also, I developed an interest in agriculture after graduation, and I learned about farming from a friend. My interest in agriculture and my documentary filmmaking came together in this film.
Q: What do the “Three Valleys” in your film title refer to?
CY: In the film, you see bulldozers destroying houses and fields on a daily basis. The protests were going badly, the villagers had started to disagree amongst themselves, there were fires, and I was very worried. It was then that I spoke to a traditional bamboo flute teacher about the weight on my heart I felt after witnessing this painful situation. The flute teacher played his flute for me, and I was so moved by the performance that I felt as if the weight on my heart had lifted. One of the pieces the flute teacher performed was entitled “Three Valleys.” This title refers to the “three valleys of life,” alluding to the numerous challenges in life that we must overcome. I thought that this was analogous with the situation the villagers were facing, so I used this music in the last scene, and I borrowed the title of this piece to use in my film title.
Q: I was very affected by the scene of the camera advancing through the destroyed village as bamboo flute music plays in the background.
CY: That scene was a representation of what was in my heart. However, the villagers had differing views of that scene.
Q: I heard that you were influenced by Ogawa Shinsuke after reading his book. Were you conscious of him or his ideas during the filming of this documentary?
CY: Ogawa Shinsuke’s book had a profound influence on me. I thought about how he had lived in the places he filmed, and how he and the subjects of his films thought about things together, engaging in debates—sometimes very heated ones—as they collectively considered how they could win true freedoms. In this film, the people of Choi Yuen moved to a new village, and the villagers fought hard as they advanced towards their goals of earning a better livelihood, living a better life, and gaining new freedoms. I tried to emulate Ogawa Shinsuke in documenting this struggle and the spirit of these villagers—but it is hard for me to judge how well I succeeded.
(Compiled by Kusunose Kaori)
Interviewers: Kusunose Kaori, Sato Hiroaki / Interpreter: Higuchi Yuko / Translator: Kato Lisa Somers
Photography: Kimuro Shiho / Video: Kimuro Shiho / 2013-10-13