An Interview with Li Yifan, Yan Yu (Directors)
It Was a Natural Relationship
Q: How did things change from the film you were trying to make in the beginning, and the film it actually became?
LY&YY: This town is a tourist destination written about by the poet Li Bai. So anyone would try to shoot the town beautifully, and probably there isn’t anyone who would deny the beauty of the town’s scenery. But when we actually went there, we discovered something more real and authentic. We felt like this was even more important than the beauty of the landscape described in poetry. We were stunned by the power of the people as they confronted unavoidable circumstances, and their toughness and tenacity. We filmed things like that, which were very moving. We had already visited the town many times before, but it was only after going deep into people’s lives and understanding how they lived that we became captivated by their spirit and attitude toward life.
Q: How many hours of footage did you shoot, and over what length of time?
LY&YY: We were there for eleven months, and shot 147 hours of footage. It was tough because we did it in the full shot style, capturing the complete atmosphere and the totality of the situations that occurred, rather than focusing on a single person or event. At first we were talking about making it longer, but in the end we decided on a length appropriate for a film. After actually entering the town, too many things were going on, and the place itself was changing dramatically. We would shoot from seven in the morning until midnight. Different things were happening at a lot of different places, and we went here and there to shoot. One thing we kept in mind that we were not shooting segments for TV news.
Q: Why did you use a lot of fixed camera positions, and why aren’t there scenes showing conversations with the documentary subjects, or scenes where they look at the camera?
LY&YY: There was a lot going on all the time, but we wanted to film those situations as unobtrusively as possible. So the two of us talked about the kind of shots we would use for the situations we anticipated for the next day’s shoot. We had fully researched the town and the people living there, and our relationship with them was extremely good. They understood that nothing bad would happen to them from the filming. It was a natural relationship, like friends. Everyone let us know about meetings, when they were looking for a place to live, and when their homes were going to be blown up.
Also, from the start we decided not to use conversations between us and the people being filmed. We thought it would convey the reality better if we showed the circumstances through conversations among the people there. We had spent time with them, so it wasn’t unnatural to have the camera there, and they trusted us. We also put some work into positioning the camera. And also, they were coming face to face with the terrible situation of their homes disappearing, so they couldn’t pay attention to being filmed. In a lot of Chinese documentaries, the filmed subject is aware of the camera and ends up acting. We are all human beings, both us and the people being filmed, without any hierarchy. We all ate our meals together. I think that is important for the filming. But we were aware of the distance between the people filming and those being filmed. In actuality, there really isn’t anything we can do for them, so we can’t be intrusive. About the only thing we’re able to do is show that these people did these things.
This film documents the town, and also human relationships. Now all the people from this town are scattered, and the town is submerged under water. We wanted to film it, and we’re glad that we did.
(Compiled by Nishiya Mariko)
Interviewers: Nishiya Mariko, Hashiura Taichi / Interpreter: Endo Nakako
Photography: Abe Satsuki / Video: Hashimoto Yuko / 2005-10-12