The anthropologic drama A First Farewell, by Chinese director Lina Wang, also includes biographical traits. As the main characters of the film, the producer was also born in Xinjiang, in north west China where, surrounded by cotton fields and desert, the Ligurian village is located. This initiation drama reflects the challenges that a Muslim minority face in an environment where economic survival is complex if Mandarin is not spoken.
With its sublime photography, the feature film was awarded the Crystal Bear at the KPlus Generation of the Berlinale and the Future of Asia at the Tokyo Festival.
The film is dedicated to your hometown of Shaya, Xinjiang. How much is it autobiographical?
A First Farewell is a poetic piece dedicated to my hometown, Shaya, Xinjiang. More than one hundred years ago, anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan, wrote in his book “Ancient Society”, that the Tarim river is the cradle of the world’s civilization. Whoever finds the golden key that was left behind by the old man in the Taklamakan desert, will open the door to the world’s civilization. Historian Arnold Joseph Toynbee also said: “If I were given the chance of another life, I would choose to be born in the Tarim basin, because that’s where the four civilizations converge.”
In your film, a young Chinese boy confronts the end of his way of life in rural China, were you trying to use his experience as a metaphor of nowadays migration to the cities to the detriment of the country life?
I’m very fond of Kyrgyzstan writer Chingiz Aitmatov’s THE WHITE SHIP, it’s a poetic saga about a boy living in a village. Aitmatov tells the story from apure and innocent perspective, using poetic words to talk about the respect of nature, beauty and kindness. Hedidn’t set up narrow opposition themes like traditional and modern or natural and civilized in the story, from a humanitarian point of view it’s a very modern piece of work. I think it’s important of how one sees people and the world.
What’s the value of winning such relevant prizes as the Crystal Bear of the Generation Kplus section at Berlin and the Asian Future competition at the Tokyo International Film Festival?
Every win at film festivals is an encouragement for me, it makes me more confident of my philosophy on making films, and also encourage me to make more films.
The film can be deemed suitable for children and for adult audiences, how have you worked on both audiences to understand differently the themes of the loss and of upheaval exposed?
This is a very good question, I ponder a lot about it when I was making the film. When facing loss and changes, it must be vastly differentfrom a child’s and adult’s perspective, while a child might simply see the surface, but for a whole family, they might face a lot more concrete things. As a person who delve into the imagery world from documentaries, a project definitely doesn’t just come from one’s imagination, but from the interconnection of “myself” and “the world”, it reflects the world I live in and my thoughts. I hope to see the poetic nature of everyday things, to break through that barrier of linear thinking and revive the subtleties and serene, the complexities and true meanings in life.
The landscapes are beautifully portrayed. How did you work with Li Yong and the sound design with Li Danfeng? Did you give them some advice or suggestion?
Li Yong was my research supervisor, I was very fond of his cinematography work, natural in every way. We work with each other really well; the mutual understanding came from the realness and sincerity we hope to have in our works.Li Yong came into contact from the start when we were doing field research, we were constantly exchanging ideas, I was really fortunate to be able to learn and grow at the same time, it was also an unforgettable experience. Because stopping and starting a scene repeatedly isn’t good for the actors, we would discuss before shooting, therefore less communication during the shootings. I prefer poetic realism, camera movement is poetic, structurally like a prose. I’m opposed to strict logics, this is a mutual understanding between me and my crew, so often times there will be movement in a scene or just observing quietly. We would record the location sound for each scene, the sound in Xinjiang is very rich, so sound designer Li Danfengand I would discuss a lot about how to express these details intricately in the film.
The composer Xi Wen uses both haunting electronic ambience to Eastern-influenced riffs on spaghetti Western-style rhythms. Did you talk about the music you wanted for the film?
We were in constant communication.My hometown, Shaya, Xinjiang, is where the four civilizations converge, Central PlainHan culture, Southeast Buddhism,Persian Arabic Culture and Greek Roman Culture. I found out that many of the convergence were expressed in the music, we have hundreds of instruments, three main music systems. I hope to explore the combination of music of my hometown in the film, the music is transcultural yet unique. Wenzi is a great composer, he has a lot of thoughts and inspired me a lot. The music often times substitutes as dialogue, it deepens the range of the film and gave ita whole new meaning.
The film remembers of coming of age Iranian films such as Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame (Hana Makhmalbaf, 2007), The Color of Paradise (Majid Majidi, 1999) and Where is The Friends Home? (Abbas Kiarostami, 1990). Were you aware of these films? How much have they been an influence?
I saw all these classic films when I was studying, I particularly like what director Abbas Kiarostami once said: “I believe that poetic films will last longer impressions than that of a narrativefilm. Every film has some kind of narrative, but the important thing is how it was presented, it should be poetic, in which offers more interpretations.” I can’t agree more with this. A realistic film, to me, is my ideal film, by that I didn’t mean the shooting technique being documentary style, but by reconstructingand reliving. The usage ofpoetic narrationlets the audience be independent of the story setup and instead participate in it, thus allowing limitless interpretations.