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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Film directing as a profession does not really exist

I saw this posted on Facebook by the Chinese filmmaker Ying Liang. He was passing to his students words of wisdom from his own teacher, Professor Si-Tu Zhao Dun.

The whole thing is in Chinese, so it's actually better if you can read it in its original language as my translation will be pretty shaky:

Here's the original:



My rather horrendous translation (some of my notes will be in parentheses):

"Some of the students of B1 (not sure what this is, a class that Ying Liang is teaching, maybe) are interested in directing as their majors. These are the words of my teacher, Professor Si-tu Zhao Dun of Beijing Film School.

"Film directing as a profession (or a career) does not really exist. To become a film director one must learn how to live life, treating one's own life with discipline and seriousness, and is willing to accept loneliness. Care about life, care about others. If you choose to be a film director merely for superficial reasons just to assuage your own pride, you will pay dearly in the future. Be realistic and practical, then you will attain wisdom."

Professor Si-tu is 74 years old. He was the teacher of the "5th Generation" filmmakers of China. (Zhang Yimou, Tian Zhuangzhuang, Chen Kaige, Zhang Junzhao and others, they graduated from the class of 1982) and is currently one of the consultants of CNEX (I assume that's Chongqing Film Fest, which was founded by Ying Liang. Nope. my assumption was wrong, according to Ying Liang, CNEX is the Foundation for Chinese Documentary Films) Professor Si-tu's father, Si-tu Hui Min, a leftist filmmaker and intellectual, was a pivotal figure in Chinese cinema history, being involved in four films in the 1930s that had became important examples of left-leaning Chinese cinema. (Diantong Film Company on Wikipedia).

Another quote from him to Ying Liang was "in order to be a creator, one must first learn to deal with the intricacies of one's relationship with the world and other people, seeking a comfortable balance, which will lead to a deeper understanding of oneself."

Interestingly, "Two Cents", Si-tu Hui Min's segment in the 1937 omnibus film SYMPHONY OF LIANHUA can be viewed on Youtube (actually, the entire film is there too, so you can check out the contributions of the other seven directors involved in this omnibus).

I don't disagree. Becoming a filmmaker isn't merely a "job", your focus isn't just on "directing a film" on a film set, it actually affects your entirely lifestyle, your philosophy, your life. There's this perpetual feeling of loneliness, knowing that you cannot really share your own emotional world in its entirety with other people. What concerns you is something that that is unexplainably private to you.

When people tell me that they really want to help me out during one of my film shoots, because they intend to learn, and to achieve their own dreams of becoming a film director, I seldom turn them down. Having people spit upon your dreams or trivialize what you wish to do is a foul experience that I had endured most of my life. I wouldn't want to revisit that upon others. Yet the irony is that most of the time when I accepted their offers to help, and told them that I was indeed preparing for a shoot and would love their assistance, they would end up turning me down because they had more important things to do, like a day job, or an appointment, or a date. I can never really understand them. It's a rather lonely feeling.