Gu Tao: Inside and outside the forest

By Tom Cunliffe
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, May 18, 2015
Adjust font size:

Director Gu Tao standing with a moose. [Photo/]


In "The Last Moose of Aoluguya," Gu contrasts the moose with Weijia (the Ewenki hunter the documentary focuses on). Why did Gu decide to do this and what does the moose represent?

"A long time ago, when their forest had not yet been destroyed, there were a lot of moose roaming the forestland in complete freedom. But their lives changed when they started to be poached, and also the trees of the forest began to be cut down for timber. During this ecological change, the animals in the forest declined in number. These moose were still majestic, powerful and healthy creatures, but were also very lonely, and sensitive. When I was filming Weijia, I thought that he was the most lonely person in the forest. The life he was used to was gone and he wasn't free anymore."

Weijia turns to alcohol as solace and Gu said he found that alcohol was a good structuring device for his documentaries, since it was "everywhere in the forest. Everybody was drinking, so much so that alcohol seemed to permeate the air. I wanted to capture this aspect of their lives, and the accompanying loss of their traditional way of life. This loss caused suffering which is the reason they turned to alcohol." In "The Last Moose," Weijia says that people are driven to extinction when they lose their way of life.

In Gu's latest documentary "Lost Mountain" (2014), which also screened at the Chinese Visual Festival, there is a section in which another director comes along to film a historical film/documentary and asks some horse farmers to recreate a traditional ritual, which Gu films as well. I was interested to know what Gu's thoughts were on staging or recreating traditional rituals or scenes in documentary. Would he ever consider adding these "performances" to his documentaries to help "assist" reality?

"When we are making independent films, we try to obey a strict objectivity when observing things. Film the things you see. I think documentaries should show the most authentic presentation of this era as possible, and not recreate lifestyle traditions, by performance, that have already been lost." Definitely against filming things which don't occur naturally, he still mentions an amusing anecdote which reveals the often difficult nature of separating reality from fiction in documentaries."

"Whilst filming 'Lost Mountain,’ a funny thing happened where a group of directors, cameramen and other film personal came to make what they considered to be a documentary. This film crew requested a local shaman to put on a performance for them to film. But when they were filming this shaman doing a ritual, the shaman began reacting to nature, so it became real, and therefore what was happening in front of the camera wasn't being controlled by the director."

Gu makes clear his approach is to focus on contemporary marginalized lives, and the human stories that result from the clash between their lives and modernisation. "I use the era that I'm living in to go and confront the same period of time that minority communities are living in, documenting and conveying their current personal experiences and feelings. I don't need to film or show what their lives used to be like or what they have lived through, I pay attention to filming their lives now in contemporary times. It's about what is happening now." Gu said he currently has a few different documentaries in the works which will keep him busy for at least the next five years, in his continual attempt to document modern China's rapid transformation and changing traditions, and give a voice to those whose words often go unheard.

Follow on Twitter and Facebook to join the conversation.
   Previous   1   2  

Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comment(s)

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Enter the words you see:   
    Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from