Saturday, August 27, 2016

Director Feng Yan on Urban Ethics, reality and passion

In Taipei this week, I am attending the Doc + Documentary Workshop sponsored by the Taiwan Film Institute (INFO).  And it is my great honour to serve as a lecturer beside filmmakers Feng Yan, from China, and Cathie Dambel, from France.

The workshop consists of four main parts.  The first part a "clinic" for 8 groups of filmmakers whose projects have been selected to receive feedback from the lecturers.  Yesterday, we watched and discussed the projects in an open session with all 8 groups present, while today we will meet with the groups individually to provide them one to one feedback.  The 8 projects are all unique and exciting and demonstrate the amazing quality of documentary film being produced in this small country.

Last evening was a screening of Director Feng Yan's gorgeous and important film "Bingai", which documents a strong and charismatic woman's struggle during her family's displacement under the Three Gorges Dam project in China.  The screening was followed by a Master Class giving by Director Feng, and I was taking notes alongside the young filmmakers in the audience.  Here are some of the quotes from this master filmmaker and story-teller that I would like to share with you:
  • Documentary is a reflection of our reality.
  • Documentary is not real, not non-fiction.
  • Story-tellers tell the story differently depending on their mood.
  • Are you using your camera to make your audience hear what you want them to hear or to allow your subjects to say what they want to say?
  • How and when and where the question is asked affects how it is answered.  The answer will depend on the relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee.
  • As filmmakers we are looking for that "one correct answer", but the realty has many layers.
  • What matters is not the absolute truth, but understanding how the filmmaker's approach affects the result.
  • The director must not focus on "reality", rather the focus should be on the story on which the character wants to focus.
  • Filmmakers have absolute responsibility to their subjects because you can not ask for filming permission every second.
  • Our urban ethics may not apply in the countryside.
  • Images help you express something you can not tell in words.
  • It takes passion to make documentary film.
The screening of my first film, "the ballad of vicki and jake" (2006, UK) will be today (film WEBSITE).  I myself have not seen this film for more than 8 years (!).  This will be followed by my master class, which will focus on the relationship between the filmmaker and subject.

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