I DON'T BELIEVE THERE ARE NATURAL BORN ARTISTS
workshop with Zhang Yimou
On day two of Kustendorf 2013, Zhang Yimou’s 1999 film Not One Less, which was awarded with a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, was shown as part of the Retrospective of Greatness programme. Following the screening, Mr. Yimou held a workshop in the full Damned Yard cinema for young film makers and guests of the festival.
At the start of the workshop, the esteemed Chinese director spoke about the meaning of film and how important it is for young filmmakers to show positive human and life values, adding that film, as an art form, has to touch the human heart, giving him, as a director, a certain responsibility for the movies he makes and the messages he sends.
When asked about the importance of film students and directors nurturing their heritage, Yimou answered:
- As a Chinese film director, I need to hold on to anything Chinese even though I know that whatever is local belongs to the world. What you do needs to be fundamentally yours so that it can be appreciated by the world. When young filmmakers make their movies it is important that they find something that belongs to them, their tradition, and their culture.
Responding to a question about the work process, the way of choosing stories to film, and the selection of actors, Mr. Yimou said that the basis of every good movie is a good story - a good script, which, as is the case in his work, often takes a year, sometimes even three to four years, to develop, adding:
- The story needs to flow. In this stage of work, you don’t think about casting. That’s the next step, in which you begin to think about the type of actor that you need. This usually depends on the kind of story that you want to film and the budget – for personal stories, untrained actors are better, while trained actors would probably be chosen for high budget movies. The advantage of working with professional, A-List, actors is that they are trained and have experience. They save time because they don’t require a lot of guidance from the director. The disadvantage is that they are very expensive. Work with untrained actors is challenging though they are easier to mold. The drawback is that it is time consuming. You need to find a balance and make trade-offs. Yet, in the end, it all depends on what you want to do.
In response to a question about which film directors influenced him and his work, Zhang Yimou explained that he cannot set apart anyone in particular, nor can he give a specific example, because every artform he has ever seen – literature, film, painting, and music – have influenced him in some way, and went on to say:
- I don’t believe that there are natural born actors. We all absorb what we see and experience. You cannot create an absolutely original film or art work because, if you look closer, everything that is created today has existed in past in a different form.
Clearly in the mood for conversation, Zhang Yimou answered numerous questions from the audience, spoke about his most recent work The Flowers of War (2011), which was shown following the opening ceremony of Kustendorf 2013 as part of the Contemporary Trends programme, about working with famed actor Christian Bale, about the symbolism of color in his films and future films. At the end of the workshop, the noted Chinese director once again thanked those students, journalists, and visitors present, who responded with a thunderous applause.