Cannes Film Festival
Venus By Water
In a southern city of the 90s China, a 9-year-old girl, Chichi, moves in with her grandmother, aunt, and cousin when her mother is going through surgery. Witnessing the struggles of the women in her family, Chichi ponders over her own path as she drifts towards the brink of womanhood.
Hi Lin, thank you for talking to TNC, how have you been keeping during these strange Covid times?
Covid put a sudden pause to our project, just like every other production. But looking back at it now, it was important to take some time away, then go back to it with a fresh mind and body. It gave me the clarity I needed since I had been so close. I was able to rethink on certain scenes, some edits and to make sure everything was a conscious choice. In the end, this experience created a much deeper understanding of the film for me.
Congratulations on Venus by Water having its World Premiere in the ACidCannes 2021, what does it mean to you to have your film part of this year's festival?
It has been a great honour of course, to have Venus born in the land where film was first invented and then respected as a form of art. It’s also the best recognition a first feature could ever received. People now want to know more about Venus by Water. It feels like the opening of a new chapter of life which I’m very excited about.
How much did the experience of directing your award-winning short film Death in a Day help to prepare you for writing your debut feature?
I was exploring the balance between dreams and reality when making Death in a Day. The first draft was more like a fantasy since the idea of the film was originated from a dream. The rewrites after was all about pulling it down to earth, to find out who the characters were, which period of time it was set. In the end, I discovered that fantasies are only powerful when rooted in real life. It was also the direction I kept exploring in Venus by Water as well.
Can you tell me how Venus by Water came about, what was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
A poetic image came to me a few years ago, when I visited my Cousin in a hospital, who had just given birth to a little girl. The hospital happened to be the same one where I, as a teenager, visited my Mother during her surgery. I felt like a witness to a life cycle of woman. It inspired the first image of Venus by Water - A little girl drifting down the river in a boat, with all the women before her existence, standing by the river bank in silence, gazing at her. The script was then built around this core image.
Were you able to draw from your own life and experiences as you began writing your characters like Chichi in Venus by Water?
I was like Chichi, a quiet little girl who was always mistaken as a boy. I was also observant like her, remembering everything adults said and did. Some of the scenes and elements in the film came directly from my childhood memories, but the rest of the film are from the adult me, looking back and imagining the emotional journey these women experienced. Chichi is both me as a child and the perspective of the director.
"We created a sense of mutual understanding, besides the technical part of filmmaking, by drawing memories and emotions from ourselves when we made the film."
At the very core of Venus by Water are women’s stories, lives and histories, how important was it for you as a writer/director to put such a powerful spotlight on these women?
I was naturally drawn to it. Being a woman myself, at the crossroads of life, I naturally went back to the women in my family for guidance. At my age, these women were experiencing the same uncertainties. And by writing about them, I was able to find the courage and confidence I needed to face my own challenges in life.
What inspired you to set Venus by Water in the 1990s and what where the biggest challenges you faced making a period film like this set in China?
I saw a picture of my Mother and her sisters in the 90s before making Venus by Water and I was stunned by their confidence, the colourful way they styled themselves and their laughters. There was a sense of excitement in them taking on new challenges back then in the 90s, inspired by the economic change. My Mother for instance, studied accounting in night schools so she could quit her factory job and work for a trading company. Her sisters and friends all had similar stories. The aesthetics of the time and their experiences are my biggest passion to set Venus by Water in the 90s. And to be honest, creating the look and set for a period film like this wasn’t too difficult in China. We were able to find the right location and the right costume. And I think everybody from our crew kept something authentic, a little bit memory, some old objects from the 90s, which they generously offered during the creation of the film.
When working on a project like this how important is the collaborative nature of filmmaking?
This is a very intimate film by nature so it required intimate collaboration. I had the pleasure to do so with my team. We created a sense of mutual understanding, besides the technical part of filmmaking, by drawing memories and emotions from ourselves when we made the film. In the end, it was more than a collaboration but a collective experience.
What has been the most valuable lesson you have taken from writing and filming Venus by Water?
To trust your creative instinct and be specific about it.
Are you a flexible writer / director or do you like to stick to what you have written and what has been planned out to shoot?
I was very firm with the vision and the story I had for Venus by Water. The shooting was also carefully planned around it. There wasn’t much alteration. The reason was because we had limited time to shoot. For every change or added details I would ask myself if they were within the language of the film, if they were the right decision for the character. When we finished shooting, I took my time to try every different approach in editing. It was a necessary journey for an instinctual project like this, to take time and question every decision to be the right one. By the end of the day, I was able to stick to the original story of Venus by Water in the editing, even to keep the cut-to-blacks.
Where did your passion filmmaking come from?
I think I was born with the passion to dream, to create and collaborate with interesting people.
Do you think you will continue to create films that place women’s stories at the centre?
I think I will always have a female perspective. But Venus by Water deepened my understanding for not only women, but human being as individuals. I had been close to women, who were my caretakers when I was a child. But by making this film, I started to see them from more than one angle, and found every single one of them different. I was also able to talk to men who were absent in the film from the perspective of a child, who shared stories of them struggling to earn livings away from home, things I wouldn’t have comprehended as a child but resonate with me as an adult. So, I think I will keep making films to understand human experience, from my own perspective.
Is there any advice or tips you would offer a fellow filmmaker?
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Venus by Water?
I’m very curious to see what different audiences take away from the film.