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TORONTO ’06 DISCOVERY INTERVIEW: Sheng Zhimin: “Independent film can express the idea you want to ex

TORONTO '06 DISCOVERY INTERVIEW: Sheng Zhimin: "Independent film can express the idea you want to ex

Every day through the end of the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival, indieWIRE will be publishing interviews with filmmakers in the Discovery section of the festival, which TIFF describes as “provocative feature films by new and emerging directors.”

Nineteen filmmakers were given the opportunity to participate in an e-mail interview, and each was sent the same questions. Director Sheng Zhimin is at Toronto with his feature film, “Bliss,” a film that explores China’s recent social changes through the context of a newly formed family.

Where were you born? Where did you grow up? What jobs have you had? Where are you working now?

I was born, grew up, and currently live in Beijing. My former jobs include script writer, assistant director and line producer. Before stepping into the film industry, I worked with experimental drama for about four years.

What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?

Movies have always a dream of mine. But for young people in China, it was very impractical. Finally, in 1997, my friend Zhang Yang had the chance to shoot his first movie “Spicy Soup”, so he ask if we could do it together. After that, I met Fruit Chan and worked with him on “Durian Durian” and “Public Toilet“. I also worked with Jia Zhangke on the film “Platform“.

Did you go to film school?

No. I have never been to film school. I learned everything during my jobs as an assistant director, line producer, and script writer

What are your goals for the Toronto International Film Festival?

It is certainly a great thing that more people will get to see my film. And hopefully someone might be interested in the distribution.

How/where did the initial idea for your film come from?

A few years ago, when my mother had already passed away for several years, my father decided to find a graveyard for her. My father and I drove through almost all the cemeteries in the north of Beijing, but he could not decide which graveyard to choose. It was getting late, and we were looking into the last graveyard near the Great Wall. My father asked the salesman for the details of the graveyard’s size, but then he did not believe the “sweet talk” of the salesman, so finally he took out the tape and measured the graveyard himself. Just then, my father told me that he would like to buy a larger graveyard, so that the whole family can be buried together in the future.

At that time I realized that my father was getting old, and I too am not far away from death. This inspired me to consider making a movie that spans from one’s youth to their old age and it would be about life, youth and humanity.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making and securing distribution for the movie?

When we started shooting, the main problem for us was the weather, as we had never imagined that it would be so misty in Chongqing. And yet this misty atmosphere later becomes one of the movie’s main themes. Luckily we ended up always having the overcast and rainy weather, and thus the weather was no longer a problem. Thereafter, the greatest challenge ended up coming from myself, as I was worrying that I would forget my initial passion and vision and the movie would deviate from what I thought in the beginning.

However, now the biggest challenge is the distribution. It is known that it is hard for this kind of film to sell.

How did you finance the film?

The finance came from a Hong Kong company, See Movie Ltd. My producer, Fruit Chan, helped a lot with the finance. He liked the script very much.

What are your biggest creative influences?

Raging Bull,” by Martin Scorsese, “Yi Yi,” by Edward Yang, and Yasujiro Ozu. Also I am certainly influenced by the directors who I have worked with, such as Fruit Chan and Jia Zhangke.

What is your definition of “independent film”?

Independent film can express the idea you want to express more directly. It gives you less restriction. It can be representative of freedom in this way.

How do you define success as a filmmaker? What are your personal goals as a filmmaker?

If he/she can persevere in making films that can express his/her ideas, he/she is a successful filmmaker. And I just hope I can shoot more and more films.

Can you tell us a bit about your next projects?

I am planning to make a movie called “Lin Zhong Lu (Road in the Forest)“. It is a story that happens in the woods and the grasslands. Just like the movies I have made before, it will be about life, youth and humanity.

[Get the latest from the Toronto International Film Festival throughout the day in indieWIRE’s special Toronto ’06 section.]

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