An Interview with Wang Wo (Director)
Hope for the Film Festival’s Continued Existence, Whatever Its Form
Q: Could you tell us about the circumstances that led you to make this film?
WW: In 2014, the Chinese authorities forced the Beijing Independent Film Festival to cancel just as it was about to open. When this broke out, a lot of people tried to offer raw footage, which they had shot or recorded with cell phones, to the film funds that had sponsored the film festival. Once they had gathered a certain amount of material, they proposed that anyone who was interested edit the materials to make their own film. I was one of the documentary filmmakers, and the cancellation of the film festival was something that struck a deep chord in me, so I thought that I should definitely make a film.
Q: Why do you think the authorities shut the film festival down?
WW: First, you could say that a Chinese independent film exists outside the political system. It’s more individual, more free, and in such circumstances, it bears a social responsibility. There’s quite a big difference between that kind of independent film, and a film approved by the administration, one that could be screened at a film festival that they officially recognized. What’s more, the film fund organizations, who were the sponsors for the film festival, are an eyesore for the administration. In turn, the administration is on edge any time large numbers of people get together. I think the reason behind the authorities’ decision to cancel the film festival lies somewhere amidst all of this.
Q: In the last stretch of the film, you call out on social media for people around the world to post pictures of themselves with their eyes closed, and thus raise your protest against the authorities, but why did you choose this method of protest?
WW: In Chinese, the pronunciation for “closing ceremonies” sounds the same as that for “closing one’s eyes.” Because the film festival was canceled, we weren’t able to hold the closing ceremonies. So I thought, why don’t we close our eyes instead, and hold the closing ceremonies that way? Closing one’s eyes also points to the fact that no one could see the films. That said, I never thought that so many people would join in.
Q: Conversely, did you gain anything through the cancelation of the film festival?
WW: The artist village of Songzhuang is in Beijing, and the people living there—filmmakers and artists, among others—work closely together. In Songzhuang, even the people who were not involved in filmmaking were under pressure from the authorities. For example, it’s very common for art exhibitions to be shut down. So when the film festival was canceled, the other artists felt that it was something that directly impacted them, so they mobilized in an effort to help the sponsors. Likewise, the filmmakers would come to their aid whenever exhibits were canceled.
Q: Is the Beijing Independent Film Festival being held now?
WW: Even now, we call for submissions, and select films every year. And we also give awards to some of the selected films. It’s on a small scale, but every weekend, we screen the films one at a time. But we no longer have the film festival, which had the important role of being a site of interaction. We’ve lost a number of other things as well. However, I am hopeful that the film festival will continue to exist in some form or another.
(Compiled by Okawa Akihiro)
Interviewers: Okawa Akihiro, Nomura Yukihiro / Interpreter: Nakayama Hiroki / Translator: Joelle Tapas
Photography: Kusunose Kaori / Video: Kusunose Kaori / 2017-10-10