Cannes Film Festival
SPECIAL SCREENING 2021
The No. 6 People’s hospital is one of the largest hospital in Shanghai. Through a range of crossed stories, of weakened lives, this is a portrait of China today that stands out.
Hi Ye Ye, thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been keeping during these strange Covid times?
Well, I was homebound most of the time, in Paris, where I currently live.
I actually found that my Chinese culture and upbringing has helped with these difficult times. I find that resilience is deeply engrained within Chinese culture and being deeply Chinese myself I found my way through what we had experienced collectively. Like most of us, I had no other choice but to stay home; so I simply used that time to work on new projects.
I like to express myself in several different artistic fields and mediums and I'm currently developing a project mixing video game and fashion. So, the lockdown period represented a perfect opportunity for me to focus on this new project I’ve embarked on that turned out to be very time consuming.
Congratulations on having your debut feature documentary H6 part of the Cannes Film Festival, what has it meant to you to be part of the festival this year?
It's a wonderful surprise.
When I’d first started to think about H6, one of my goals was to be part of a big international festival. When my producer Jean-Marie Gigon told me about Cannes, I realized that I was getting close to my dream.
I’m very happy to be able to make a documentary film for the big screen, which is very unusual in China, and communicate my point of view with such a great visibility about a Chinese subject that is important to me.
Of course, being here in Cannes very much feels like a dream. I hope it will give my film a wider audience and international exposure.
How did the world premiere of your first film go in Cannes?
To be perfectly honest with you, it is too early for me to be able to properly answer this question. I’m still reeling from the emotion of the moment when I presented my first feature film on the big screen at the world’s most prestigious festival.
It is a great opportunity to have my work seen by people from the whole world who are considered to be very cinephile. Furthermore, it's also a huge opportunity for me to bring to the forefront the ideas I want to share about Chinese people.
In the days following the premiere of my film in Cannes, I was stopped in the streets few times, by people who had attended it, and they told me how much the film has touched them. What I particularly like is that everybody has his own favourite character, and can talk about him or her with love.
When you worked on ER at the Sixth People’s Hospital what was it about this place that connected so much with you and did you always plan to return?
Sixth Hospital receives millions of patients each year. The hospital acts like a microcosm of society at large. Here, patients and families are living dangerous and difficult situations, and because of the sheer number of patients, medical staff are working under high stress.
In this harsh environment, human reactions are magnified and more condensed to explore. The Chinese attitude towards life, death, family, hardship and love moved me personally and brought back memories from my childhood that I had almost forgotten from living abroad for many years.
I also discovered that there are many people in a hospital who could be a subject for a film. First and foremost, patients, who are facing big troubles and are opening themselves more than usual. Then, the families of the patients, who themselves are feeling their own stress and also need to talk about what they’re going through. Finally, medical workers, straddling the thin line between empathy and professionalism. Truthfully, I think a hospital is a great place to tell stories.
How did H6 come about and how did you go about getting people to take part and share their stories and experiences?
People in a hospital are more likely to open their heart and bare their soul. At first I talked to everybody I’d met at the hospital, explaining the intent of my project, and also listening to them. During the ER shooting, I started to build a script in my head. What I had to do next was to find characters to inhabit the story. It was a kind of casting I did.
When I started to film, it was a matter of keeping a proper distance with all the characters: not too close, not too far, in order to allow them express their innermost feelings. My way of scheduling the film shoot was to have as much information (medical schedule, family visits time...) as possible on each character to choose the moments when I would feel that something was most likely to happen.
Finally, I was coming on those moments and I was keeping a distance, which was different for each character.
What were the biggest challenges you faced bringing this film to life?
From the very beginning, I knew exactly what I was looking for and I was able to meet people who helped me achieve what I had in mind.
So it was in fact relatively easy.
The most difficult part was to find my own balance, to keep my own emotions in check in front of the people I was filming, in order to stay as objective and neutral as possible. What I have tried to avoid was to influence the life of the people in my film and to change their natural reactions.
When working on a project like this how important is the collaborative nature of filmmaking for you?
It's impossible to make a movie alone. So, of course, collaborative work is the only way. Although I consider that the director's position is to give a direction. I'm the one with a movie in my head and I'm grateful to all those who helped me to build it.
During shooting, unlike a fiction, there is no written script to follow. That means the team must trust me and rely on me. And during the post production, it was so comfortable to be surrounded by professionals, both technically and artistically. I could concentrate on setting the tempo of the film.
H6 was my first experience working on a feature film and I learned a lot from all the professionals I have met throughout this whole filmmaking process.
"For the specific subject found in H6, I was absolutely convinced that the documentary form was in fact the right medium."
On a documentary feature like H6, how flexible with your filmmaking approach did you and your participants need to be?
Of course, every character subject is different, and especially in a hospital setting, a person can radically change his mind whether they are on the way to healing, or whether their situation is worsening.
So being adaptable was imperative in order to get the best out of the whole situation. Luckily, as the director, I could make the decision at any time to postpone filming whenever I felt that it was simply not the right time. Or I could decide to film during a normal conversation, because a family member was visiting, and I felt that a certain emotion was about to be raised.
What would you say have been the most important lessons you’ve learnt about yourself and filmmaking after making your debut feature documentary?
When it comes to any artistic project, you need exude confidence…so that others around you can be confident themselves. You also need to be perseverant, since the filmmaking process in itself is long. You must know how to make choices – all the time.
As someone who is Chinese, there is also something almost philosophical: following the stream, letting the things who happen around lead you, feeling when the direction is wrong. In a word: know how to use your heart.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I like films as much as I like every artistic expression. For me, every idea should find its own medium. For the specific subject found in H6, I was absolutely convinced that the documentary form was in fact the right medium.
Do you have any any advice or tips you would offer a fellow filmmaker?
Just be true to yourself. Work hard. Although filmmaking is often regarded as a glamorous gig, it has to be done as well as possible, with all your technical skills and especially with all your heart.
Have you been able to find any new creative opportunities or inspiration after finishing H6?
I always have dozens of ideas floating around. Some of them may become a movie; others will use another medium. I just don’t know yet.
With my project of fashion and video game, I did a lot of interviews with young Chinese people. I realised that the Generation Z has a totally different way of seeing the world. Instead of having only a vertical point of view (historical, centred on China), they also have a horizontal point of view (much open to the world through internet and travels). I feel there may be a good subject for a documentary with another perspective on China, an exploration of the young generation and its contradictions.
And finally, what do you want audiences will take away from H6?
For a Chinese audience, I want to offer them a deep dive into their own relationship to their roots. And I especially think of the young generations, stretched between local and foreign influences.
Nowadays, the vision of the world about China is often quite vague, and one with many prejudices. I would like foreign audiences to feel more that Chinese people are not only economic competitors but also human beings.