"Always trying to construct the 'perfect film'"
8 questions for Jia Zhang-ke, president of the jury of the Concorso internazionale
Following the 2010 Pardo d'onore, you return to Locarno as president of the jury for the Concorso internazionale. What kind of films do you expect to see and what are the essential characteristics that a film must have, in your opinion, to aspire to the Pardo d’oro?
Participating in film festivals has become a big part of my life since my very first feature film Xiao wu (Pickpocket) in 1998. Locarno is one of my favorite festivals. I am never stingy with my fondness and praise for it. Having been given the opportunity to come back again after a few years, I really look forward to seeing films from all over the world, probably like many other fellow filmmakers; especially the works of the young directors. I very much expect new perspectives on humanity and society and new horizon that those films will potentially imply. I do also hope to see artistic creativity. It is extremely important to combine those two aspects together in an organic manner. In a word, I am keen to see new films. I think, to bring new inspirations to the 100-year old film history is the very nature and meaning of Locarno.
You have always said that you, respectively your films, have been influenced by Italian Neorealism and the French Nouvelle Vague; two historical experiences that found immediate visibility at the Locarno Festival. How important are festivals in trying to capture new film trends that deal with the contemporary scene?
If we get to know the film history more systematically and observe the contemporary scene more closely, it is not hard to find that there have always been new films that are somehow prophetic. They appear in different times, foretelling the challenges that we are going to face. With sharp senses, those directors capture the changes the world is experiencing when most of us are still ignorant about it.
On the other hand, the social changes also urge the artists to explore new ways to make films that can showcase the reality explicitly, which in a way turn into new film trends. As with more ancient art forms (i.e. literature), filmmakers are also messengers. It is very important to have platforms such as international film festivals for filmmakers to spread the word about the latest occurrences around the world.
What contribution have international festivals made to the development of your artistic career?
I come from China where internet has only started out and communication was not easy when I first started my film career. Film festivals have become an important platform to share contemporary film culture as well as to introduce young filmmakers from different cultural backgrounds to the rest of the world. I myself have benefited a lot from it. Without film festivals, there would have been no way for me to gain knowledge on the latest cinematographic art and the world wouldn't have known a director from China. I think that even though the internet has made information so accessible today, film festivals still play an essential role, as curator and editing abilities are needed to tease out certain cultural views before conveying them to the audiences so that they can access the most valuable part of a contemporary film among mass information. This is also the exact reason why I along with my friends initiated the Pingyao Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon International Film Festival in China in 2017.
With your films you investigated the changes that were going on in Chinese society, but then you also committed yourself to dealing with stories tied more closely to the traditions of the past. What kind of contribution can the past make to understanding the present?
Chinese people believe in ‘cause and effect’. Let us say we are facing many problems in our lives now. The reasons that caused those problems do not necessarily exist only in present times. Everything is led by one another, some of which are from the past. Since the making of Er shi si cheng ji (24 City) in 2008, I have become more and more interested in history. Through films like Er shi si cheng ji (24 City) and Hai shang chuan qi (I Wish I Knew), I have found that the key to understand the present lies all in the past. Film, being a channel of and a medium through which to connect to the past, also needs creativity in addition to the actual documentation of the past. You can only get closer to the ‘historical facts’ by imagining more details, and logical thinking also needs emotions. So I think exploring the past by using emotions and imagining details is a very important supplement to historical studies. Film itself is key to combating loss of memory. The direct access to the past through pictures is one of film’s contributions.
Locarno has always accentuated its love for cinema and emphasized its essence to be expressed in all forms. Do you also feel great love of this kind which ranges across the most diverse film genres? Or would you say you have a more selective taste?
I believe every director would ask himself the question: what is film? Because we are directors with different personalities, we present different understandings. We always try to present the cinematic aesthetics as seen through our own eyes by the films we make. In a certain sense, many directors are always trying to refine and construct the ‘perfect film’, rooted in their understanding. But just like an audience, I can often discover the beauty of different films by directors of various personalities and genres. My interest in film is quite diversified like that one of an audience.
How do you judge the point of view of auteur cinema and its difficult relations with the machinery of the big audiovisual industry nowadays?
Different creators face different difficulties. The willingness to express feelings and thoughts and the long-lasting belief in film will help us get through.
Lately you have been producing young Chinese directors’ films. What do you like about this engagement?
I have been producing two to three films by young directors every year since 2010. I think of myself more as a guarantor for the young directors towards the investors so that it allows for their debut to go more smoothly.
For instance Ji yi wang zhe wo by Song Fang that screened in Locarno. Its female angle and the calm objective perspective left a deep impression on me. The film was awarded the Pardo per la migliore opera prima (Best First Feature) at Locarno. Every time I work with a young director, I am touched by the discovery of their sincere passion for film, which in turn makes me believe I have only just started my creation.
Can you tell us about your experience in Pinyao. What led you to initiate a film festival?
I founded the Pingyao Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon International Film Festival mainly for two reasons. One is that as many as 800 films are produced in China each year, as many of them are debuts of young directors. With such large numbers of productions, it is extremely difficult for the world to discover and to get to know more talented young Chinese directors. Thus we hope the Pingyao Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon International Film Festival can screen those works and introduce them to the world.
The other reason is that beside cinemas, the internet has become another important platform for audiences to watch films. Yet it is very easy to neglect films from young directors, auteur films or non-Western films for general audiences with mass resources all accessible at the same time. The Pingyao Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon International Film Festival hopes to promote and introduce those films in terms of its cultural values.