In Film Comment magazine, Xin Zhou interviews Vivian Qu, a longtime producer of Chinese independent films who recently debuted her first directorial effort, Trap Street. Excerpts:
Q. How did the story come about? It starts as a story about a man tracking
a woman, then slowly becomes a psychodrama.
A. What I wanted to portray in the first place was this feeling of
watching and being watched, which has obviously become one of the most significant characteristics of modern life. Since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, this feeling has been reinforced, distorted, and multiplied in many different ways. What propelled such a phenomenon? Can we even find out? The paradox is, today’s technology should enable us to discover truth, but it’s never been this difficult to tell the real from the unreal. I didn’t want my film to be a simple record of a particular event; I want it to be a synthesis of my thoughts and observations. Even if I cannot find the answer, at least I can raise the question: does 90 percent freedom amount to true freedom?
Q. The digital cinematography by Matthieu Laclau and Tian Li gives the images a hyperreality, and the lighting is meticulously designed, especially in the dance scene.
A. I want the film to be a realistic portrayal of contemporary life. So I treat each scene as a faithful slice-of-life vignette. Although many North American viewers have commented on the film’s noirish tone, I refrained from using lighting as a tool to interfere or heighten the dramatic effect. One thing that my lighting designer and I agreed ever since our first discussion is that we will not use any colored lights. If I strive for anything, it is clarity. I want the audience to see everything yet still not know if what they see is the truth.
Q. Could you elaborate on your understanding of technology in contemporary life, especially the notion of privacy in relation to technology?
A. Is there a fine line between protection and intrusion? No, there is not. It’s a dilemma with which we have to live in our hyper-technological society. I just hope we are not creating a monster that will come back to haunt us in the future. Or have we done it already?
Q. Could you describe a little what it’s like being a producer of independent film in China? Where does all the money come from, and how do you make the film sustainable if it is not going shown in the place where it is produced?
A. Indie productions have their money coming from almost exclusively private sources. Ten years ago foreign funds were an important source, but many of them have been stopped over the last few years. This is why the majority of indie films today are microbudget films. They travel through the festival circuit and perhaps make some sales internationally. The Internet is another possibility but this is rather recent.
Q. Jia Zhangke has talked about the lack of an independent film industry or structure in China. Do you feel the same way?
A. Yes, absolutely. In addition to lacking the proper outlet for indie films—there is only one art-house theater in Beijing and it only shows Film Bureau–approved films—independent film festivals are not encouraged either. So showing indie films has almost become a private affair. The difficulties in financing these films have made many directors move into the commercial area, willingly or unwillingly.
Read the full interview at Film Comment.