INTERVIEW – A PEACEFUL DIVORCE

During the first conversation with your father, you film yourself only as a reflection in the window. But during the second conversation, on the other hand, you appear directly : why this change in the way you show yourself ?

 

The two conversations were actually one long phone call cut into different parts. The thought of changing the camera position was not planned before the shoot. I just wanted to simply record the conversation at first, so I just went with my instinct when filming. Looking back, I wouldn’t say that I intentionally chose these camera positions, but they were rather the reflections of my feelings and emotions at that moment. You can feel that there is still distance between my father and I when the conversation first started. Later on when he brings up something that we are both interested in, I felt closer to him, so I got up and moved the camera subconsciously, pointing to myself.

 

Your film contains images from the past, which we guess show your father, your mother, and yourself when younger. Can you comment on where these images came from, and why you decided to use them ?

 

I think I am lucky that my mom kept a lot of my childhood footages. They got divorced when I was six and the filming stopped there. A couple years ago, I got to see those video tapes and I remember crying so hard, it was such a mixed feeling. I used to tell myself and other people that their divorce wasn’t a big deal to me, because they both love me and that should be enough. But the strangeness of seeing my childhood self and my parents scared me. I saw so clearly that the way they looked into the camera changed as years went by (which is the way they look at each other because one of them is always holding the camera); and how they would put on fake laughs in front of me when their relationship wasn’t going well. I used to think that childhood footage should “belong to me” since they are about my younger self. But I later realized that nothing in that footage is part of my own memories, I couldn’t recall most of those events, even after seeing the footage. Rather, they are my parents’ memories, they were the ones who consciously held up the camera and created this footage through their own gazes. I’ve always wanted to find a way to share this personal footage, but not in a narcissistic way. Since I am the one behind the camera in this film, I thought of using some of the footage that my parents filmed, to combine their gazes and mine, and to travel through time.

 

Your father is only shown in the past. Why did you not want to show him in the present, for example on the computer screen ?

 

I came back to China in January after graduating from the U.S. Just a few weeks after I came back, COVID-19 started and I was stuck at home for months. I realized that I was spending 24hrs with my mom and stepdad, but no time at all with my father. This forced separation reminded me a lot of my childhood. The fact that my mom and I are in the same physical space every single day (which is rare to me because I lived in the U.S by myself for 6 years), made me think a lot about my dad’s presence in my life. I thought that since I couldn’t meet him physically during the pandemic, why not make a film about his presence without filming him, without him being in the same space with me. I would say that the idea of not showing him in the present was even my first impulse for making the film.

 

You choose to show your family together, as people sharing a space, rather than individually. Can you comment on this choice ?

 

I am really glad that people have noticed this. I think this forced isolation period might have increased my sensitivity towards space unconsciously. In Asian cinema, many auteurs (such as my favorite Edward Yang) love to show family members in the same space but as isolated individuals. But when it came to filming my own family, I noticed that even when I was trying to only film my mom, my stepdad or brother would walk pass or into the frame often, because they were genuinely interested in what she was doing. Or when I was trying to only film my stepdad, you could still hear my mom’s voice in the background.  Even though I didn’t intentionally stress in the film that I have a really loving family, I think it can still come through when people see the ways we share spaces.

 

Interviewed by Nathan Letoré