YIDFF 2009 New Asian Currents
Doctor Ma’s Country Clinic
An Interview with Cong Feng (Director)

A Clinic Is Like One Stage

Q: You used to work in a meteorological bureau. What led you to make this documentary film?

CF: The work there was very boring and I was distressed wishing to lead a more meaningful life. I decided to quit a job in 2000 and became an elementary school teacher in Yellow Sheep River, Gansu. The scenery of the farms in Gansu was wonderful and a lot different to Beijing. The more I got to know the farming villages, the more motivation and creativity I had to record their local life environment. However, I had no money, equipment and knowledge of filming, so I went back to Beijing one year later, got a job at a newspaper company, made some money and bought my own equipment. In 2005, I went to the Yellow Sheep River in Gansu again and started shooting the life of local people little by little. That’s when I heard about Doctor Ma’s clinic from my acquaintance and had a feeling that it might be a very fascinating place to shoot. This is how it started.

Q: Some audience may feel physically tired as this film is quite lengthy. What do you think about that?

CF: As you may already notice, there are hardly any scenes shot with a tripod. One reason is that it is not convenient when you get to close to the object of shooting. Another reason, which is even more crucial, is that we never wanted to disturb the work at the clinic even though it made us hard to shoot nice looking scenes. That’s the fundamental rule we had when shooting, because we served no use to patients in a place like clinic. Handheld shooting is physically very tough, especially when you go drinking the night before. But I felt reluctant and even guilty shooting the pain of patients using a tripod, having no such pains of our own. The original version of this film was five hours long, but it is now edited down to three and a half hours. I guess most of the people might have some physical fatigue or sort of pain watching this film. It doesn’t matter to me. I don’t mean to deliver any sort of entertainment or pleasure to the audience. I’d rather want my audience to share the pain of the patients or suffering of the Chinese farming villages in this way. I reckon this “pain” is just.

Q: This film unfolds through the theme of illness. What kind of role does Dr. Ma have at the clinic?

CF: He is like a Christian pastor who can heal and lessen the pain in your heart by listening to your problems sincerely, though pastors are not capable of curing diseases and pain. Dr. Ma is a doctor trusted by everyone. The patients come to consult with him about their mental suffering as well as their diseases and illnesses. A clinic is also like a stage. Dr. Ma plays the role of an MC. He is the one who presides over the start of the play but gradually steps away from the center and takes on a supporting role. He helps every patient relate to the others as the play goes along.

Q: Who would you like to show this film to most?

CF: Currently, we are not able to show this type of film dealing with the issue of farming communities very often because of various restrictions imposed by the government. I would like as many Chinese people as possible to see this film and learn the present situation of Chinese farming villages and reflect on their daily life. As the film shows, young workers in the areas like Yellow Sheep River leave their hometown to work in big cities and the local culture of farming village has been gradually disappearing through the progress of urbanization. I hope to record the process of this “erosion” and make a film. I want future Chinese people to see it.

(Compiled by Xie Mingming)

Interviewers: Xie Mingming, Suzuki Hiroki / Translator: Okazaki Ikuna
Photography: Ito Ayumi / Video: Ito Ayumi / 2009-10-10