After the screening of Wu Wuna’s ‘Let’s Fall in Love’ at the Chinese Visual Festival, a discussion with academics about the changing conditions of romance and dating in China raised the question about the emphasis on marriage and the relationship between love and commitment, as well as the social pressure and marriage as imperative and natural responsibilities.
Here are thoughts by Wu Wuna herself on the current condition of the independent Taiwanese cinema and on her unique approach to documentary making.
Eva Spirova: To begin with, you are an award-winning film maker and you have screened your documentaries at various international film festivals. How do you find the Chinese Visual Festival and are you satisfied with the reception of your films here in the UK?
Wu Wuna: This is the first time when my films are being screened in the UK at the Chinese Visual Festival and what I’ve noticed is that the audience here is much more sensitive towards the cultural difference. In the Q&A session after the films there were more questions about my involvement in the film in comparison with the interest of the Chinese audience.
ES: Your style is described as ‘extraordinarily aesthetic’ with a ‘feminine sensitivity’. What are the difficulties in being an independent female director in Taiwan?
WW: I don’t actually see myself as being a female director facing any particular difficulties. I see more advantages of being a female director than disadvantages, for example there are women’s film festivals but there aren’t any men’s film festivals, so I don’t find it so difficult.
However, as a young female film maker, in Taiwan many of the members of the decision panel are old men, so I believe many young female directors don’t know how to deal with them, so sometimes I find it difficult to get access and resources to particular subjects.
ES: What is unique about ‘Let’s Fall in Love’ and ‘Happy or Not’ is your presence in the film, which certainly gives them an emotional spark. For yourself is the whole process of mixing the personal with the professional a difficult one?
WW: Because my background is in fine and visual arts, I wasn’t trying to do the conventional form of documentaries. So unlike most documentary film makers who have a certain logic and mentality of treating documentaries as a way of exposing something and who follow certain rules, I wasn’t trying to achieve that. Therefore, I never had any problem of mixing both the personal and the professional.
Instead, because I was very interested in the psychological healing, for me it was quite difficult to understand how someone spends such a long time with a person and not get involved and attached. If you’ve spent almost a year with someone of course you get involved in their story and you want to help them. If you can, why not make a film to help both yourself and them at the same time? That is why I made the films the way I did.
ES: Your films have been very well received in the West. So when you are making your films, are you conscious about how would they be received in the West even though they are focusing on some very problematic topics in Taiwan?
WW: For the films that I have already made and all the four films shown here at the festival I didn’t think of the Western reception. However, because I am becoming more and more famous and because I have started to work with international commission editors, I have to be more conscious. I already have a project lined up and they advised me that if I tell the story in a particular way, the Western audiences wouldn’t understand it.
ES: In terms of your personal influences, who influenced you when you first started your documentary career, any particular film/documentary film makers?
WW: My greatest influence was a local Taiwanese director called Zero Zhou. Later she was my executive producer. Zero Zhou became a fiction film maker, but her style and her understanding of documentaries influenced me a lot. When I got into the China Fine Art College, which is probably the most famous film college especially for documentaries in Taiwan, my teacher who was a leading master in Taiwanese documentary film making influenced me a lot too. I made my first documentary under his influence, but after that I started to be more influenced by fine art.
My films are quite conceptual in style, for example ‘Farewell 1999’ has a very different style. So after this film for a certain period of time my films were indeed very conceptual, but I was working by myself. After that there was a very big difference in my style, as I set up a company with a friend and I started working with a crew, so I began thinking more about the market and the audience’s reception and feeling.
After ‘Let’s Fall in Love’, my films would be more or less audience-orientated, but I will of course stay true to my own artistic vision. It’s just that by working with a crew we’re trying to make the audience understand and like the films more.
ES: We have witnessed a new generation of Taiwanese film makers to revive the local industry, with not only feature films, but also documentaries achieving commercial release. What do you think is the future of independent Taiwanese cinema?
WW: I personally haven’t really noticed the revival of Taiwanese independent film. I knew that the Government was supporting commercial films such as ‘You Are the Apple of My Eye’ which you mentioned. Commercial films receive a lot of support, a lot of funds.
However, there isn’t anyone who was really as famous as the director of ‘Safe City’, anyone of this type of director, so I don’t think there is any revival. But I agree with the Government’s decision to support the commercial, because we have to have an industry in order to have talents into this industry.
Because of this tendency to support commercial films, the funds and time for independent films are often taken out. And that is why many independent film makers like myself go into international markets.
Interview by Eva Spirova
Photography by Andreea Dascalu