​Indie filmmakers offer advice to newcomers

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, August 17, 2022
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Three indie filmmakers took part in a forum during the ongoing 12th Beijing International Film Festival (BJIFF) to share their insights, experiences and suggestions with newcomers to the Chinese film industry about how to engage with film festivals worldwide and attract funding.

(Left to right) Veteran Sina Entertainment reporter He Xiaoqin hosts a forum attended by indie filmmakers Yang Lina, Li Ruijun and Kong Dashan during the 12th BJIFF in Beijing, Aug. 15, 2022. [Photo courtesy of Sina Entertainment]

Director Li Ruijun spoke about being impressed by the International Film Festival Rotterdam because the festival treats young directors even better than established directors, also noting that the Cannes Film Festival is the most formal of all film festivals. "Every man wears a suit and every woman wears a dress — you can't tell who are the filmmakers and who are the audience," he said.

Director Yang Lina, whose new film "Song of Spring" has been shortlisted for the BJIFF's Tiantan Award, recalled taking her second documentary "Private Home Video" to DOK Leipzig, the biggest festival for documentary and animated film in Germany. "Seeing my film up on the big screen, discussed and criticized for the first time, I felt that my work was particularly meaningful." She also admitted that she couldn't answer many questions from the audience at the time and it took her many years to understand what it means.

Kong Dashan, director of the critically acclaimed new sci-fi film "Journey to the West," said he will never forget receiving applause from a packed house at the Pingyao International Film Festival for his film, which eventually took home best film at the festival's Fei Mu Awards. "I remember our art director predicted that one climactic scene might get a round of applause from the whole theater, and it really happened," he said. 

Li Ruijun's latest film "Return to Dust" is China's best reviewed film so far this year, but since it is a low-budget art house work about the life of a rural couple, the director had feared there would not be much of an audience. "But it has performed beyond my expectations, taking nearly 20 million yuan at the box office," he said, before admitting that films such as his come with a lot of pressure. "Whenever I make a film, I always tell investors in advance that the project might lose money. I was like, 'If it loses money, can we still be friends? If we can't, then we'd better not cooperate.'"

He added, "We have to face the cruelty of the market. But we want to make films like these to give hope to fellow filmmakers and newcomers; to let them see the light, and possibilities."

Kong humbly said he is lucky to have had Frant Gwo, director of sci-fi blockbuster "The Wandering Earth," as his producer, so his film attracted the attention of many big studios. "But when I made the film, no one interfered. I had complete creative freedom."

Yang also noted that during the process of creating a film now, there are plenty of trustworthy and professional producers, and marketing and investing companies out there that can use their experience to guide the film into the market. "For me, I will do my part and not let them down."

Director Li Ruijun believed doing art house films is a mechanism for dialogue and communication between creators and the audience, while commercial films are more a service system and you have to figure out who the target audience is and how to entertain them. "I hope there will be more diverse films in the market, but the audience doesn't know there are many film genres," he said.

Yang Lina echoed the belief that filmmakers have a responsibility to make more diverse works. "Audiences are the best," she said. "They are smart enough, they are picky and they have expectations. Filmmakers should also set high standards and requirements for themselves."

Kong suggested when creating a film, filmmakers should shift their perspective and be the audience of their own works. "When I make a film, I will think if I were an audience, would I like or understand this scene of my film. I reflect on myself, polish the film, and deliver the messages I want to convey."

For newcomers, Li suggested the film pitch programs of many film festivals are an ideal way to make their dreams come true. "The programs gather many big studios together and you have the opportunity to present your idea," he explained. "First, it will be quick to let them know what you are doing; second, if your project is good enough, you will meet professional filmmakers and companies there and then. Whatever you are doing in a film, you should do things you want and love to do and follow your heart."

Yang encouraged young creators to bravely engage in dialogue with the world and keep creating. "There is fiercer competition at the film pitch programs, but you will stand out if you continue to maintain your creativity."

"I agree that you should follow your heart, especially for your debut and second films. You need to make them without hesitation and without outside intervention. That's our experience," she added.

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