Interview: Documentary Filmmaker Huang Weikai

Huang Weikai

James Mudge recently got the chance to interview Chinese documentary filmmaker Huang Weikai, the director of “Disorder”, which recently won the First Place Jury Award at the 2013 Chinese Visual Festival, screening this Sunday 26th May at 8pm.


James Mudge: Congratulations on Disorder winning First Prize at this year’s Chinese Visual Festival – although the film was made in 2009, it’s clearly still very powerful and popular. Why do you think this is?

Huang Weikai: My thanks to Chinese Visual Festival and the jury. I think the charm of the film lies in the fact the reality we live in is still in accordance with the film.

Disorder Movie PosterJames Mudge: Amongst other things, the film’s title suggests chaos, and this definitely comes across very strongly when watching it – what message or themes were you trying to convey?

Huang Weikai: My film showed the absurdity of city life. The news we read every day is always more “amazing” than a novel or movie. Sometimes we can’t help asking whose city this is. We choose the cosmopolitan living lifestyle, while it brings us a lot of things that are unreasonable and unpredictable. Therefore we need to reflect on it.

James Mudge: The film captures some amazing sights and scenes, and has some really bizarre and memorable moments, like the escaped pigs and the fake traffic accident. Are these really everyday sights in Guangzhou, and in modern day Chinese cities?

Huang Weikai: Besides artistic consideration, all the little episodes chosen to appear in the film were selected according to the criteria that they actually do happen very often in Chinese cities.

James Mudge: Can you tell me a little bit more about how the film was made? I believe it was pulled together from thousands of hours of footage – who shot this and how did you go about editing it together?

Huang Weikai: Between 2008 and 2009, I collected various footage shot by amateur cameramen. I watched around 1000 hours of footage, then decided to make a city symphony of my own. None of the previous city symphony documentaries made before seemed to feature the voice of reality, like Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin Symphony, Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera and Godfrey Reggio’s Life Out of Balance. The first two films were made in the silent film era, and the last one uses electronic music. This time, now in the DV era, I told myself I could not use a soundtrack. Now this city symphony is mixed with various sounds and episodes. I knitted them together like knitting a sweater, with the design and style of the current age.

James Mudge: The black and white look is very distinct – why not colour?

Huang Weikai: There were two reasons. The first is because the footage came from different cameras, the quality and colours vary and therefore they need a unified style. Another reason is I used to learn Chinese ink painting and therefore prefer presenting pictures in black and white. I made quite a lot of adjustment in the black and white pictures as well. For example, I enhanced the contrast and turned almost all the skies in the city into pure white. Some of the original footage is grainy and some is not. I turned them all into the grainy ones in the final film.

James Mudge: It’s a radical approach that’s very different to other Chinese documentaries, and which makes the film really quite unique – why did you choose to make it in this way?

Huang Weikai: The feetless bird in Wong Kai Wai’s Days of Being Wild initially came from Godard’s Bande à part. Two novels from Latin American were published on the similar subject before Alain Robbe-Grillet made his L’Année Dernière à Marienbad. Quentin Tarantino could not have made his Reservoir Dogs without watching Ringo Lam’s City on Fire. No matter how original a film looks like, it must have its elements from some work which came before. I want to just try something a little different with each one of my works.

James Mudge: Are there any other artists or directors, from China or around the world, whose works you admire or who have influenced you?

Huang Weikai: I like Godard and Wong Kai Wai’s films. However, I would like to quote a Chinese writer, Yu Hua’s words to answer this question. He said: “The predecessor writes’ influence to those after them is like sunlight to trees. A tree will grow under the sun, but more importantly, it will grow up like a tree instead of like a sun. All writers’ growth will be healthy and they will be themselves instead of like someone else.” Directors are the same.

Huang WeikaiJames Mudge: What’s your opinion on the modern Chinese documentary film making scene and how it has been developing in recent years?

Huang Weikai: I am just one of the filmmakers and I admit my vision is not wide enough to see the picture of the whole Chinese documentary making world. However, I notice many of my friends begin to get interested in documentaries and many start to film by themselves. I believe more and more will join in the group.

James Mudge: I know you’ve been invited to be a visiting scholar in New York, and have taken Disorder to a lot of different film festivals around the world – how different is it making films in and about China?

Huang Weikai: I only know about independent documentary making in China. When most people start filming, they usually would ignore or care little about sound of the film and would just focus on the subject of the film. I witnessed documentary making in the US just once or twice but I hardly know enough to comment.

James Mudge: What are you working on at the moment? Any plans for the future?

Huang Weikai: I am looking for investment for my fiction feature film. It is a project supported by Cannes Film Festival Cinéfondation.

James Mudge: Congratulations again on Disorder, many thanks, and good luck with all your future projects.

Huang Weikai: Thank you.

Visit the Chinese Visual Festival website for more information. (Above pic of the director via dGenerate Films.)

Chinese Visual Festival 2013 Poster