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Oxhide director Liu Jiayin interviewed on Artspace blog

Oxhide II (dir. Liu Jiayin)

By Ariella Tai

On the University of Sydney’s blog Artspace, Christen Cornell interviews Liu Jiayin on her acclaimed films Oxhide and Oxhide II (both available in the dGenerate catalog). Despite being one of the youngest artists of the current generation of independent Chinese filmmakers, she is credited with being one of the most innovative. In this interview, she discusses her aesthetic choices, as well as her reasons for using daily household routines as the focus of her films. She gives an especially provoking response when asked what she wants the viewer to draw from her extended observations of daily household tasks, quipping that “Maybe it’s just how to make a bag, or make dumplings.”

CC: But we’re shown the years of repetition in this family’s daily tasks, we’re shown their skills, and how each member of the family has their own way of doing things. There’s a feeling of respect in the film.

LJY: True. These are the details of life that I think are interesting but that are often overlooked, especially within films, so I make a special effort to film them. Usually in films, if people are cooking or eating dinner, it’s never to show that people cook or eat dinner. It’s only ever used as a backdrop in which to show or say something else. So for example during dinner two people have a fight; or somebody announces they’re pregnant; or somebody announces they’re having an affair. And cooking scenes are often used to express that a couple are happy together; or to say something about a family; or the relationship between two people. These scenes are hardly ever about the cooking or eating.

I think these daily routines are interesting in themselves. I don’t have to add anything else to these moments in order to make them interesting to me. I don’t think you need somebody to catch fire, or for somebody to die, to make them worthy of observing.

So daily routines aren’t backdrops in my films – they’re the subject, and that’s very important. Nothing is simply a backdrop, just like in life. I can’t just say ‘today wasn’t really that interesting so I’ll cut that out’, that this day wasn’t really part of my life, or it was simply part of the backdrop of something else that was more real.

Liu also meditates on how her films reflect on modern Chinese society, and her role as an artist in shaping (or not shaping) impressions of contemporary China.

CC: I wonder if this approach is a response to the pace of change and forgetting in China today. Your films are slow and observational, careful to include every moment, whereas modern China seems to be all about speed and forgetting.

LJY: Perhaps, but I don’t want to be too self-conscious about that. I’m sure my values can be seen in my films, but I don’t want to make any great statements about society. I don’t want to try to represent anyone or pose any arguments about how society should be. My life is just my life; my films are just my films. I don’t think I have to ‘say’ anything in order to make powerful cinema.

In China today, most filmmakers seem to think they need to represent somebody in order to give their films weight. A film has to represent a certain class or profession. I think if I can manage to represent myself then I’m already doing quite well! [laughs]

And anyway, who’s to say that I would be able to represent anyone else? Let’s say I set out, do my research, and make a film about China’s rural migrants who move to the city to find work. I might think their perspective is very important but how do I know I am able to express it? How do I know my opinions are the same as theirs? Where does someone get that kind of confidence?

All these films about China that we’re watching right now – I think they could have a very short life span. They might be relevant for about ten years, and then we might look back and find that the films that look at daily life might better represent the times.

CC: Still though, I think your films do say a lot about society, about contemporary China. Perhaps it’s just that they do so by describing your point of view so specifically.

LJY: I’m sure the audience can see my opinions in the content, but I’m still more concerned with approach. My filmmaking experience has always been about how to make a film. This has always been my interest, more than what I might say while I’m doing so. In these last few years my real interest has been with time in the filmmaking process, and that’s where I’ve put most of my thought. While making Oxhide II what I considered most was this question of time. How to use ‘real time’? Should I use it? If I am going to use real time, then why? And how am I going to film real time in relation to space?

So I thought about that a lot and then chose my method. This is what I spent most of my time thinking about, not whether or not I should express Chinese tradition or anything like that. That’s not my purpose. My purpose is to develop a filmmaking style that expresses the way that I experience life.

To read the full text of the interview, visit Artspace.


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