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|Whistler Film Festival 2015 Interview: LAST HARVEST director Hui Wang
by Jason Whyte
LAST HARVEST - At #wff15
"LAST HARVEST continues the story where other similar-themed documentaries left off, after the people have been relocated and have to rebuild their lives. It explores the personal impact of modernization in China through an intimate story of two appealing farmers, Mr. and Mrs. Xu, being relocated by the government's water diversion project." Director Hui Wang on LAST HARVEST which screens at the 2015 Whistler Film Festival.
Congratulations on having your film show at the 15th Anniversary at Whistler! Is this your first Whistler Film Festival experience and are you going to attend your screenings?
Yes! It's my first Whistler Film Festival and I'm really looking forward to it because I have heard so many great things about the festival from other filmmakers; the Whistler Summit, the parties, the great films, and so on. I will definitely attend my screenings and I'm very much looking forward to the Q&A after. My film premiered at the closing night at Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival in Toronto this October and we had a great Q&A. I think we'll have a very different audience at Whistler, so I'm really looking forward to hearing how they will respond to the film and what questions they'll ask.
Great to hear you are coming! Talk to me a bit about how you got your start and your previous movies.
Originally, I wanted to make a film based on my parents' real life experience during the Chinese Cultural Revolution because growing up I have heard so many interesting and sometimes funny stories about that era at our dinner table. Since I didn't know anything about filmmaking back then, I decided to do the certificate program in film studies at Ryerson University. Because documentaries tend to take less resources to make, I decided to make a feature doc as my debut.
How did the documentary come about from your perspective?
It may sound like a cliche, but we met the right people at the right time in the right place. In the summer of 2010, my producer Jun and I were in a village in Hubei Provicne, China, doing research for another documentary project. It fell through because we couldn't find the right subjects, but we decided to stay for a while to get to know the local culture and people. We visited several families and it so happened that some of them were facing relocation because of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project. We didn't know we were going to make this film until we met Mr. Xu. After we met, I was drawn to him right away. I was just amazed at how honest, sincere, and eloquent he was. With a constant smile on his face, he blew me away with his positive attitude, shown in the extensive efforts he and his wife were undergoing to make the best of the situation despite the fact that he was quite heavy-hearted and reluctant about relocation. Both Jun and I "fell in love with" him and instinctively wanted to make a film about him, to show his life before and after relocation. We believed that the audiences would feel the same way when they see him on the big screen. Not only was Mr. Xu a very compelling character, but Mrs. Xu also seemed like a strong person with a great sense of humor. Jun and I talked that night and made the decision to film and share the Xus' story.
What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?
I'm someone with a strong will. If I believe in something and set out to do it, I will make sure it gets done, whatever it takes. To me, the biggest accomplishment is to complete the film to the best of my ability. As a matter of fact, LAST HARVEST is mainly self-funded with only a small grant from the National Film Board's FAP program via the filmmaker assistance program. Everyone worked on the film for free because we truly believed in the story and wanted to share it with the world.
It sounds like there were some big challenges with the doc. What was your biggest challenge with LAST HARVEST, and what was the moment where you knew you had something?
I knew I had something when I first met the Xus because they were just so lovable and appealing, and having strong subjects is essential to this type of observational docs. The biggest challenge with making this movie is the access. Because the South-to-North Water Diversion Project is a very sensitive topic in China, we had to film everything under the radar. When the physical moving was taking place, we actually got a warning from the local government requesting us to film only in the Xus' homestead. So we couldn't get any footage in the street, etc. We also had to wait for a while to film the new place after the moving because some officials were there. It was not easy to have all the constrains and have to be very "careful" all the time when filmming.
I am about to get technical, but I would love to know about the visual design of the movie and how the movie was photographed.
I shot the film myself and we didn't really have a visual design so to speak. If you watch the film, you'll see that we used deep focus throughout because of its realistic feel and richness in the frame. I'm a big fan of Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Jia Zhangke. So you might be able to see some influence in the cinematography as I often like to emphasize mood, atmosphere and environment through my shots.
What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie in Whistler?
I am most looking forward to hearing the response and/or questions from and having conversations with the general public, fellow filmmakers, and other professionals about the film.
After the film screens here, where is the film going to show next? Anywhere you would like it to show?
It is going to show at the Woodstock Art Gallery as part of their documentary series next spring. I'm also waiting to hear back from a few festivals in different places. I would love to show it in Asia and Europe.
If you could show this movie in any cinema in the world, which one would you choose and why?
It has to be the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto. It is the best documentary theater in the world with amazing programs and a great membership system. Did I mention that it's also fully licensed and has the best popcorn in town? I'm actually a staff member there, but I'm not biased at all. You have to check it out when you visit Toronto. I feel so lucky that my film premiered there at the closing night of Planet in Focus.
(Author note: having attended TIFF in 2013 and 2014, I can agree this is one of the great movie theaters in the country!)
What would you say or do to someone who was being disruptive at a screening you were attending?
I'll throw them out. Just kidding. I'll probably just ask politely if they could stop their disruptive behavior because everyone else is trying to enjoy the movie.
What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business as a piece of advice?
If you have a story or movie that you feel you have to tell or make, do everything you can to make it happen. Don't let anyone discourage you. You have to believe in yourself and in the story. Having a strong first feature is an important step in the film-making business.
And finally what is your all time favorite movie?
It's really difficult to pick just one movie. But if I have to do it, it'd be either Luc Besson's LEON or Alice Wu's SAVING FACE.
Be sure to check out LAST HARVEST at #wff15, playing on Thursday, December 3rd, 3:00pm at Village 8 cinema and on Friday, December 4th, 9:30am at Millennium Place.
This is one of the many films playing at the 2015 Whistler Film Festival. For show information, tickets and for other general information on films and events, point your browser to the official website at whistlerfilmfestival.com!
Be sure to follow instant happenings of Whistler Film Festival on my Twitter account @jasonwhyte, including mini-reviews of films, comments on festival action and even a photo or two. You can also follow the festival on my Instagram at jason.whyte!
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=3868
originally posted: 12/01/15 10:27:31
last updated: 12/01/15 10:34:24