15th ÉCU Film Festival | 2020
"The film is adapted from a short novel I happened to read when I was in high school. The story impressed me so deeply that I could remember till now."
Xufei Wu & Chun Yao Chang
A Poem In Bamboo
1920s, Southern China. A young bridegroom is visiting his aunt, who lives alone in the distant mountains. Bamboo grows everywhere like an ocean. The mansion is beautiful, and his aunt seems kind. Still, there is that locked room in the attic. And that strange noise. And secrets?
Hi Xufei & Chun-Yao thank you for talking to TNC, how are you handling the lockdown?
It is a disaster for all the people. If it were not for such a plague, I would like to take a visit to Paris personally and see those wonderful folks and their pieces. I am now back in China. As you may know the prevalence of the disease has been basically under control here, and life is returning to normal step by step. However the rest of the world are still suffering (NYC is in worst situation around US, where Chun-Yao is staying). I truly hope it would end soon enough, no more loss. Keep up the hard work and stay safe!
As a filmmaker is this experience providing you with some creative motivations?
Yes we’ve seen much death, horror, panic and hatred during this epidemic, but we’ve also seen more love, cooperation and toughness in humanity. One of the keyword in this to me is farewell. There are doctors and nurses saying goodbye to their families on the eve of Chinese New Year before their departure towards Wuhan; there are people saying goodbye before going into quarantine; and of course there are tens of thousands of people watching loved ones gone. I think this is a unique time when we are forced to inspect our relationship with others and the world. I believe many people have reshaped their values.
Your film A Poem in Bamboo has been selected for Student Film category at the 2020 ÉCU Film Festival in Paris, what has it meant to you to be part of this unique film festival for independent filmmakers?
It is an important sign to me that our film is appreciated in Europe in some sense, as Paris is a European center of the creative field. ÉCU Film Festival is a great platform for us to showcase our piece overseas and get in touch with European filmmakers, whom to me personally are not so familiar. Also being selected in the festival gives me more confidence of our film around the world.
You have had an amazing festival run with A Poem in Bamboo, has it surprised you to have gotten such a great response to your film?
To some extent it is. As I know the majority of the selected films are live-action films, while our film is an animation. Also I was not so sure if European audience would be easy to understand the story I was telling, which is based on an old Chinese novel. To be honest I don’t even think a Chinese would totally understand the whole film in first glance because I intentionally chose to present a very local environment while there are so many different cultures under the broader concept of ‘Chinese culture’. But still it proves to me beautiful stories (either in visual or in literature) are accepted commonly even among people with distinct culture backgrounds.
A Poem in Bamboo is your graduation film, what has your experience been like attending the School of Visual Arts from NYC?
I’ve seen many talented peers there. We learn from each other and become very good friends. Lots of our teachers are from Blue Sky Studios so we can get information of the industry. The program is encouraging cooperated student films starting from our year. Before that most films were finished by one student. Teamwork requires great project management but also allows each member to focus on the area he/she is interested. 3D animation requires many different technical skills in its pipeline, so to me cooperation is necessary in high quality film making, especially when there is very limited time given. NYC is a great place for artists, with world-class museums and cultures from all over the world.
As co-directors on a film like this how important is the collaborative nature between you both?
We have discussed many times over the story, putting each others’ ideas into it. Because my background in college is fine arts, I am responsible for the visual/art style of the film, and Chun-Yao is responsible for the more technical part. My work includes concept art, storyboards, scripts, animation and lighting; Chun-Yao did all the EFX and CFX with partial lighting and compositing. We did modeling and surfacing together. Although there are few disagreements along the progress, it is a successful co-directing in general I think. We are both happy with the result.
What has your film festival experience been like?
So far we have been selected into about 20 festivals, mostly in United States. Because of my personal situation (also the lockdown) I haven’t been to any in person yet. I look forward to attending one in the future.
Can you tell me a little bit about A Poem in Bamboo, what was the inspiration behind this film?
The film is adapted from a short novel I happened to read when I was in high school. The story impressed me so deeply that I could remember till now. There is an unspeakable, gothic, sad, yet beautiful and touching feeling in that writing. Most importantly, I have always wanted to present the gloomy but fascinating south of China, where is my hometown. Those traditional southern buildings were all around when I was a kid, but right now there are few left. On the other hand the combining of Chinese visual and an occult story is a new idea to me. By making such a film I am seeking a new possible genre of 3D animation. In this sense the film is experimental to me.
What was the most challenging aspect of making this animation?
Time. We have only 8 months to finish the whole film, so our schedule was always very tight. The original plan was to make a 5-min film, but later we decided to cut some shots in order to finish in time. To me personally there are still many details in the film that could be better, if we were given more time polishing it.
Looking back do you think there is anything you would have done differently?
I would spend less time thinking about the story but start working on the real production earlier. It was in the production part that I discovered how well I could handle the schedule. People always tend to overrate their ability to meet the deadline. The earlier we could find problems the earlier we may solve them.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
Yes I started making animation in college, although quite simple and rough then. To me animations are no different from live-action films in the film languages they use. I love drawing since childhood, and film is a higher version of drawing. When pictures move, with sounds and music, new meanings are created. A still picture is like a window, while moving pictures generate a world.
"Compromise is inevitable between schedule and quality, but still there could be a balance."
What has been the best piece of advice you have been given when you started out?
Do you have any tips or advice to offer fellow student filmmakers?
Compromise is inevitable between schedule and quality, but still there could be a balance. Project management is very important. The part that you like most in the pipeline may not be the easiest to find you a job, meanwhile keep focus on the part that you are best at.
What are you currently working on?
Now I am working on a feature film as a lighter in an animation studio, probably the only in-house pipeline studio in China. At the same time I am considering my personal project inspired by Chinese ghost stories.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from A Poem in Bamboo?
I hope they could think of the place they grew up, and the people around who had given warmth, if there is any. I want to make people feel peaceful when facing the loss of beloved ones, reminding them that love stays after death.