Chinese film director Jiage Tong brought us “Seventy”, awarded by ISA in July season, Best Director (Female), Best Student Director and Best Student Short. A brilliant film set in a remote Chinese village, about an old single man who plans to hold a funeral for himself.
Jiage Tong is a female director and scriptwriter from China. She finished a literature degree in Shanghai Theater Academy, and her working covers film, TV Shows, and theater. After she got into City College of New York, she concentrated on filmmaking, hoping to bring a great film that can expose the human nature. In 2017, Jiage Tong put a lot of effort for her thesis film “Seventy”. She was back and forth three times between USA and China and scouted fifteen villages. In December, she and her team spent half a month living in a remote village and finished the shooting in -8ºF condition.
ISA: Congratulations Jiage! We know you are very young, but your film is about old people and death. Tell us why you wanted to make such a film?
Jiage Tong: Thanks. Five years ago, I went to my grandma’s hometown together with her and chatted with some aged people. I discovered that they especially wanted to have a great funeral. When describing the wish in relevant with death, each of them carried smiles and eagerness without any fear, which gave me a strong desire to create. Therefore, I began to compose my play “Seventy”. Funeral has a significant meaning to those older generations in China and inhumation means getting home and the chances to come again. Moreover, the name on the tombstone and a great funeral leave some evidence of their existence to their obscure life. Nearly everyone thinks that the old people want to enjoy their twilight years and long for a quiet life. However, as a matter of fact, they deeply desire for reputation and the sense of being. Wang Shun in “Seventy” is a man of this kind. Even though he knows that Government plans to promulgate a new regulation about cremation prior to burial, he still stubbornly insists to give himself a great funeral to get the chance of getting back to the root before the implementation of the policy. Once someone asked me whether Wang Shun is a comedic character that is worthy of satirizing in China.
However, this is not the case. Wang Shun is not a comedic character that is worthy of satirizing no matter where he is. Everyone has the right to pursue to reputation, so it is really worthwhile for me to record this kind of brave behavior of an old man. It took me four years to finish “Seventy”. During this period, I went to villages of different styles to collect stories from various old people. I lived with them and many of them were nearly one hundred years old. Although they carried some smell of rotten viscera with themselves, they were still positive when talking about death, which made me have a more objective and new understanding of death in my twentieth.
ISA: Did you experience any troubles?
JT: Yes. Minus 8 Fahrenheit was a great challenge to the staff in the crew. Because there were many outdoor scenes and the wind in the village was heavy, the fine art group needed to guarantee the correct position of each stage property. Moreover, before shooting the panorama, they needed to splash snows on the buildings and ground with snow clearer again and again so as to keep the continuity of camera lens. In some overhead shots, DP shot on the Crane. However, when there was thick snow on the ground and frozen earth under the snow which had lasted for five months, it was really difficult for the Crane to be planted into the ground. Therefore, several hours ahead of shooting, we must melt the ground one layer by another with hot water and then planted the Crane into the ground. After it was frozen, we began to shoot and then took it out after shooting in the same way. I am really glad that 40 people of my crew all tried their best to help me during that period to finish my work. Even the 72-year-old actor who was afraid of coldness succeeded in this.
ISA: Tell us about your experience and feelings in your shooting location, in this remote village in China.
JT: During the location search, because of the special theme, I was refused to photograph by many regions. I walked around nearly 20 villages and finally decided the shooting place. This is an extremely poor and backward village. The annual income of a whole family is less than $ 200 and the young all go out to work in the city, leaving the old and some defective children as if they have been left in this remote corner by the world. Everything from people to animals in this village is pure and beautiful. Even though it was minus 8 Fahrenheit, the villagers tried their best to help with our shoot. Apart from the actor, Wang Shun, all actors are from this village. Because they had no experience in performing, it took a long time in the initial communication stage. However, they were natural without any decoration, which achieved an unexpected effect. During the break time, the villagers often helped us cook and keep warm.
I deeply remembered that a child with an intelligence problem in the village acted as a child who was one of the onlookers of Wang Shun’s funeral in the tail leader of the film. I noticed him the first time when I got there and he often looked at us at the corner silently, without smiles or cries. However, he had pure and limpid eyes and said nothing and looked at me silently when I talked to him.
When I communicated with his grandpa about asking him to participate in the performance, I got that he had some intelligence problems. Even so, I still tried to make him a part. At the very beginning, it was difficult as he didn’t understand what we were talking about. Later AD made fun of him at the back of the camera and he gave some response. Therefore, when all old people in the village came to tease him and the wandering animals all came to watch, the child smiled. The old said that the child had never smiled like this and the silent and quiet village seemed to become more lively.
ISA: How is your feeling to be awarded by Independent Shorts Awards?
JT: It’s really exciting to get three awards in ISA. I am preparing now my next film in New York and I also met many difficulties. But these three awards encourages me to move on and make more great, sincere films.
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