YIDFF 2009 New Asian Currents
Spiral Staircase of Harbin
An Interview with Ji Dan (Director)

Documentary Filmmaking Is a Way to Reawaken Myself

Q: When you chose to film in your hometown, Harbin, why did you take this approach?

JD: At first, my purpose was to question, “Where have our dreams gone?” and I intended to do some interviews and shoot some scenes around the city. But soon after I started to film, I was so attracted to the real lives of those I had been filming because there were so many experiences I had never experienced or even known about. For example, since I have no children, the filiations were very interesting to me. Though we were classmates, we had no chance to meet and talk about how they were doing except for at the alumni reunion where most conversation involves superficial topics. So, I began to try to dig into their real, everyday lives and find out the realities and truths of their lives.

Q: Since the people you filmed about are your childhood friends, would you please tell us something you and your friends have in common?

JD: I went to Peking University and got the opportunity to study abroad in Japan. At that time, I felt that I was so lucky to leave that life environment and never wanted to go back again. From then on I had almost no connection with them and knew nothing about their lives. However, when I stepped into my 40s, troubles kept on happening and I even felt hopeless at times. So when I met them then, I actually felt that I could understand the situation they were in and the feelings they had felt. Though we may have experienced different lives before, at that point our worries were the same.

Q: During the shooting, did you experience changes within yourself?

JD: The biggest change that happened to me was, after taking a close look at their lives, I no longer looked down on them. Honestly speaking, previously when I saw the way they lived their lives, I always considered them hopeless and meaningless. But now, I have begun to think that every person is a beautiful being; everyone is making great efforts in their own ways. To be a director, your work is just to know people, to eliminate the prejudice and discrimination towards people and to make people know each other better. Making a documentary is a kind of cultivation and reawakening of myself too.

Q: What do you think about the future of the communication on documentary films between China and Japan?

JD: When I studied in Japan, Ms. Feng Yan and I have once met Mr. Nonaka Akihiro of the Asia Press and received warm encouragement and support when we made documentary films. And I would say that YIDFF was where I learned filmmaking. For many Chinese independent filmmakers, the biggest dream is to come to Yamagata. For three weeks Ms. Fujioka, the director of Tokyo Office of YIDFF, stayed in Beijing and some other filmmakers and I felt that we had been saved from the dead-end film scene in China. Nowadays, film festivals like the Yunnan Film Festival have begun to increase in China too, and Japanese documentaries are also shown from time to time. I feel that we already have a warm connection now. Just in this way, by accumulating those small steps, we can finally make something great. Yamagata is almost like a hometown to me because every time I come back here, I feel peace and relief. I wish for such communication to continue from now on.

(Compiled by Xie Mingming)

Interviewers: Xie Mingming, Endo Akiko / Translator: Xie Mingming
Photography: Ichiyanagi Sayuri / Video: Sasaki Tomoko / 2009-10-11