Cannes Film Festival
Short Film Corner 2021
An independent and empty-nest grandma YING (70s) who is in the early stage of Alzheimer’s confronts the pressure of moving into a local public nursing home persuaded by her daughter XIAO YU (30s) who works as a construction worker in a big city in China.
Hi Lizzy, thanks for talking to The New Current, how have you been keeping during these strange Covid times?
Hello, thank you for inviting me to have this wonderful chance to talk with you about my project. Your willingness to support global indie filmmakers and artists is very impressive and meaningful.
It’s been a tough year for all of us during the Covid-19, everything was shut down in Los Angeles. But things are getting better now thanks to the vaccines. On the other hand, it’s also an opportunity to have space and time to think and reflect on my future work and career as a filmmaker. I keep reading and writing during the epidemic. I have a feature script that is coming soon, which is exciting.
Has this time been offering you any new creative opportunities or inspiration?
It’s a great question, my passion is always to be a writer and director to express my voices and thoughts toward the society I live in by using visual and audio languages. However, I’m kind of exploring my career as a filmmaker during the Covid-19 – I also work as a creative executive in a Hollywood film company. I'm in charge of a program that supports BIPOC and female indie filmmakers all around the world. So basically, I do my work on the side, but at the same time, I’d like to help and support more unseen young filmmakers who have strong voices to speak for their communities. I think this is a great opportunity to develop careers together with those talented filmmakers as well.
You are an MFA graduate from Emerson College in Film and Media Art, what was this experience like for you and how much did your time at Emerson College help prepare you for your filmmaking journey?
Yes, Emerson is a great film school with many experienced and respectful professors. Emerson’s professors were never going to judge your idea, even some ideas you might think it’s unrealistic. They gave me a lot of space and freedom to work and practice filmmaking skills. Emerson is super diverse as well; they spare no effort to support international students like me. they listen our voices and understand our thoughts and demands.
My committee Chair Ms. Roberts-Breslin and committee member Mr. Marc Fields inspired and supervised me from pre-production to post-production. They offered me many valuable comments and suggestions, but at the same time, they respect my ideas as well. It’s my honor to work with them. Without them, I won’t be able to make my thesis.
Congratulations on having A Matter Of Time part of this year's Short Film Corner, how does it feel to be able to present your short film at Cannes?
Absolutely wonderful! Presenting my films at Cannes is always my dream. It is a great chance for me to get to know more filmmakers in the industry. Of course, this is a bridge for me to get this wonderful interview by The New Current. Much appreciated.
As a writer and director, how much flexibility do you allow yourself once you start shooting, do you like to stick to what you've written?
I believe the pre-production is very important to make sure the shooting going well. So, I really paid attention to every detail in the pre-production. I had lots of meetings with my key crew members to communicate creative parts. I needed to make sure everybody is on the same pages and really understand each other’s intentions. Since I have an art background, so I drew each storyboard and designed shot-list with my DP. Having a clear storyboard for each shot is crucial to make sure we covered everything during the shooting, because the director will be super busy on set, and as an indie filmmaker, we need to really control the timing and schedule due to the limited budget. As a result, I was kind of relaxed on set, since our team already are well-prepared. But I always embrace improvisation during the shooting, I will add several shots if we have extra time.
Yes, I do like to stick to what I’ve written, because the reason why I’d like to be a director is to use film, as an art form, to express my personal ideas. Film is a tool for me, my language, to bring my story to global audiences.
How did A Matter Of Time come about, what inspired your screenplay?
A Matter of Time is about during the large-scale demolition and construction going on in a small town in China, an independent and empty-nest grandma YING (70s) who is in the early stage of Alzheimer’s confronts the pressure of moving into a local public nursing home persuaded by her daughter XIAO YU (30s) who works as a construction worker in a big city.
The reason why I chose the theme of the nursing room is because of the rapid development of China and its ageing population. To control the situation, China canceled the only-child policy and applied the two-child policy in 2011 and three-child policy in 2021. More and more families have been faced or are going through the situation of caring for elders, including myself. I was born in 1995 under the only-child policy. Most of the people in my generation are on the same boat as me. When we grow older and have our own families, we will need to take the responsibility for four elders and kids, while working in the competitive industries in cities. We can not deny that our generations have heavy external and internal pressures from our family and work. Facing the pressure inspires me to discuss this topic for my thesis film.
Furthermore, During the period of China's rapid urbanization, young people from the middle and west part of China moved to coastal cities to seek better job opportunities. In China, we have the specific term for those migrant workers — “off-farm workers”. In the script, Xiao Yu, Ying’s daughter, is one of the off-farm workers. They bring their dreams and swarm into already overburdened big cities. However, most of them don’t have higher educations and connections, so they have no choice but to take the jobs that require manual labor with low salaries. In addition, daunting housing prices in big cities prevent young workers from dreaming about their own dwelling places. For example, in my hometown, Shenzhen, which is also Xiao Yu’s work location in the script, the housing price is in the top five of the world’s most expensive cities to buy a home. For lower-class workers, they would never be able to afford an apartment in the big city, even if they worked hard for their whole life.
Looking back is there anything you would do differently on this film?
Yes, but no. I do have a lots of things that I’d like to improve, like some dialogues, I might choose to use more actions and silent moments to portray the character’s inner emotions. However, I like my final version of A Matter of Time, it’s imperfect, but it has its own unique characteristics and qualities.
"My attitude to my work is humble and modest, but it’s pure, determined, and respectful. I’m not an articulate speaker, so let my films be my voice."
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
The reason I fell in love with filmmaking is that it naturally triggers all of my senses and passions. When I make films, I show my most sincere kindness and sensitive feelings to reflect and express my perspectives of viewing the world and the society around me. My artwork always includes the elements of critical analysis and radical opinions towards the environment where I live, but I apply a moderate form of expression in my work to deliver the ideas. My film itself creates a strong contrast and irony between the content and format.
I believe that everything that happens in our daily life is a representation, which has a deeper meaning. I enjoy observing, thinking, reflecting, and communicating my ideas to the audience by using visual and audio language, because I believe that film as the most effective art format can always offer a positive influence to the public and justify unexposed inequities. My attitude to my work is humble and modest, but it’s pure, determined, and respectful. I’m not an articulate speaker, so let my films be my voice.
Do you have any advice or tips you would offer anyone about making their own short film?
Be well-prepared, be confidence, be responsible, be professional.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from A Matter Of Time?
Creating a sense of reality for my film was very important to me. In order to achieve that, I used stationary shots, long takes, and deep depth of fields as the cinematographic style for most of the footage. I also wanted to restore the realistic background sound from the nature of life. John Fiske firmly believes that realism is “realistic not because it reproduces reality, which it clearly does not, but because it reproduces the dominant sense of reality” (20). In other words, he mentions that realism presents itself as “an unmediated picture of external reality” (20).
I do believe that realism has the power to extract and concentrate on important points from personal experience to create artwork with aesthetics. A realistic film is not like most commercial Hollywood movies with lots of artificiality, artistic conventions, implausible, exotic, and supernatural elements. Realism attempts to represent matter truthfully. It usually depicts ordinary people, especially the lower and middle class’s living situations. It also describes the changes in their delicate and subtle inner emotions by using an objective way of displaying them. As a result, when spectators observe realism, they find a similar experience as the plot in order to get emotional resonance.