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An Interview with Filmmaker and Photographer Qiu Yang

14 November 2017 | Katie Da Cunha Lewin

Though only young, Qiu Yang is quickly becoming a talent to watch. Born and raised in Changzhou, China, he went to Australia to study film-directing. His film about a mother looking for her missing daughter won the Short Film Palme d’Or at Cannes this year.

Culture Calling: Hi Qiu Yang! Thanks so much for answering some questions from Culture Calling.  I really enjoyed your film and thought your use of depth of field and framing was really interesting. The final scene is really moving too, such an interesting use of sound! Congratulations on your award.
 
Could you first off, tell us a bit about your award-winning film ‘A Gentle Night’? How did you get the idea for it?

 
Qiu Yang: It’s a 15min short film about a mother whose daughter has gone missing and she tries to look for her daughter in the middle of a night. The story is inspired by a serious news story I read in my local newspaper about a bunch of children that mysteriously went missing, but a few months later, they came back out of nowhere with no explanation. The story and the mystery really fascinated me and stayed with me for a long time. I was really interested in why the children went missing, and what did the parents do after they went missing.
 

CC: How did you decide upon the setting for the film?
 

QY: The film is shot in my hometown, but in the story, it's presented as a generic Chinese city. I think because my hometown is a small Chinese city, it's really simple and functional - it's not Shanghai or Beijing. And that's what the most of China actually looks like, functional and not very interesting. And I think to have the film set in this environment would help us to achieve more realism.
 
CC: The film takes place just before Lunar New Year – what is significant about the date and why did you choose it?
 

QY: It wasn't really chosen - we were actually shooting a week after the Lunar New Year, and that was the only time I was able to shoot. So I decided to just make it into the background of the story. I think it also adds more authenticity and realism to the film.
 


CC: You are also a photographer - how did you become interested in film?
 

QY: I decided to study filmmaking after high school. It was more or less a random choice. I started painting training from very young age - it's a family tradition from my father side. I was always attracted to the arts and cultural side of things, like literature, painting, music etc. And I was never interested in the academic side of things. After high school I had a chance to go overseas, and I just randomly picked filmmaking because I didn't want to pursue a professional education in painting and I liked watching films, so I made that decision, without knowing what I was getting myself into. But when I look back now, I think all my painting training and my interests in photography, have a great amount of influence in my filmmaking as well.
 
CC: What kind of film or what filmmakers are you most influenced by?
 

QY: It's pretty hard to say, I really love all the greatest artists. I'm a fan of formalism - Robert Bresson has great influence in my filmmaking methodology. Tarkovsky inspired me athletically immensely. American painter Edward Hopper is another visual influence for me.



CC: Your film and photography work often engages with urban landscapes, such as building sites or tower blocks. What is it that so interests you about those kinds of spaces?
 

QY: I think that's a lot of Edward Hopper's influence. The contemporary Chinese city has a great similarity, in terms of tone and feeling, towards Hopper’s work. Hopper’s paintings focus on the subtle relationship between characters and their environment, which often explore the theme of solitude, loneliness, regret and are often in the setting of cityscapes. And these are the very emotions I am trying to explore, as well as the atmospheric tones that I am hoping to create in the film.
 
CC: What projects do you have coming up?
 

QY: I'm finishing my feature film script at the moment and hopefully will be working on realising it soon.

CC: Are there any other Chinese filmmakers you would recommend to an audience who might not be familiar with Chinese cinema?
 
QY: The one and only Edward Yan -  a true master of the art of cinema.
 

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