After winning the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes, Qiu Yang’s A Gentle Night has been selected for nearly thirty film festivals
Director Qiu Yang’s emotional drama A Gentle Night has been selected for many prestigious film festivals, including Festival de Cannes, where it won the coveted Palme d’Or. In the next two months, A Gentle Night will be in contention at the Toronto International Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival and The New York Film Festival.
In a nameless Chinese city, a mother with her daughter missing, refuses to go gently into this good night.
Writer and Director Qiu Yang was born and raised in Changzhou, China. He studied film directing at the Victorian College of Arts, Australia. His short film A Gentle Night was selected for the 70th Festival de Cannes Short Film Competition in 2017. And in 2015, his short Under the Sun was selected for the 68th Festival de Cannes cinéfondation competition and was selected for more than 80 international film festivals, including AFI Fest, New Directors/New Films, Clermont-Ferrand, Palm Springs and was nominated for the 52nd Taipei Golden Horse Award. Yang has been chosen to participate at the Taipei Golden Horse Film Academy, mentored by the legendary film master Hou Hsiao Hsein.
LI Shuxian who stars as Cai, is not from a traditional acting background, she is a Chinese Xi Opera performer from Changzhou, China. A Gentle Night is her acting debut.
A Gentle Night, was inspired by a true story and a few of its film festival selections include, Melbourne International Film Festival, São Paulo International Short Films Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, Calgary International Film Festival and more.
For those who haven’t seen the film, please can you tell us more about A Gentle Night?
A Gentle Night is 15 minutes short film that was entirely set and filmed in my hometown Changzhou, in China.
The story follows a mother whose daughter suddenly gone missing, not able to getting help from the police and her husband, she decides to take the matter into her own hands and goes out in the middle of the night and tries to look for her daughter.
Where did you get the idea to write the film?
This film was actually inspired by a small piece of news from my local newspaper. I always take inspiration from real life. Everything in my films either happened to me or are real stories I heard, I don’t really imagine stories or drama.
The first piece of news was reported in a community back in my hometown, there were a few small children who had suddenly gone missing, and nobody could find them. Then a few months later, another report came, saying the missing children came back and nobody knew how.
So, I noticed there were a lot of blanks in between these two reports. I’m always more interested in the story behind the headline, the history that leads up to the “headline moment”, or the aftermath. Then I started thinking, why were the children went missing, what did the parents do afterwards and how did they come back. I believe those are where you could really see the clash of humanity.
Congratulations, your film has won numerous awards. Which festival has been your favourite so far and why?
Although the film has travelled to a few festivals, I have only been able to go to two of them personally, which were Cannes Film Festival and Telluride Film Festival.
I have to say really enjoyed both film festivals. Cannes is arguably the most prestigious film festival in the world, where you get to see, not only the latest work from film masters you study while at film school, also you get to see films from new directors from all over the world. It is always a holy temple in any filmmaker’s mind.
Telluride is something very different, it’s not as massive and as glamourous as Cannes, it doesn’t have any red carpet, it doesn’t have the hierarchy. But it created one of the warmest experiences I ever had in a film festival. The people work in the festival and super passionate, as well as all the audiences who travelled to here to watch films. The town is small enough, you actually always run into established filmmakers and actors, and you can just approach them and talk to them about their films. And that’s something very hard to happen in Cannes.
The lead actress is fantastic and quite new to acting, what made you choose her for the role?
To be honest, she was my only choice, but this doesn’t make her any less perfect for the film. I was searching someone for the role in pre-production, but the problem is, the role requires the actress to speak my local dialect. I’m from a small city in China, so there’s no film industry, there are no actors in my town. So, I needed to work with the non-professional actress. But again, the film is written for this role, so I really needed someone who was able to show the complexity of the character. During the pre-production, I did a few auditions but wasn’t really able to find someone who I believed could pull the role off, I was even a bit depressed because we were running out of time. I was thinking if I couldn’t find someone, I was going to call the project off because a lot of the film was depending on this actress. In the end one of my local producers recommended a family friend, who’s a local traditional Xi Chinese Opera performer, to try the audition. And she was just perfect for it. Even because of her stage performing experience, she often came cross over the top, but she was not afraid of the camera, she was very naturalistic in from the camera, so I was confident that I was able to work on her performance and bring the “over-the-top” performance down.
How did you get into film directing?
I’m actually from a painting background. My grandfather was a painter and my dad is an architect, so painting was a family tradition. I was never an academic growing up, had terrible scores in school, but I enjoyed arts a lot, I was into painting, of course, music, literature and watch films with my father, but at the time, only as a pleasure. I never thought I wanted to become a filmmaker until the end of my high school. Because I didn’t really want to become an architect, nor a painter. So, I just randomly (maybe not so much when I looked at it now) decided I want to study filmmaking, even though I didn’t know anything about it. I remember at my first class in film school, I couldn’t understand anything the teacher was saying, I never even touched a camera before. Maybe because of my painting background, I was trying to borrow the training experience from it, I decided to work on my technicality first, to understand what’s filmmaking. I started working on set outside the school as lighting assistant, camera assistant, director assistant. That went to for about two and a half year, until at a stage I was professionally freelancing. But then I thought that wasn’t really what I wanted to do, so I decided to put up my hands say that I want to direct my own stuff. Around early 2013 I just graduated from my bachelor film school and got into a really good film school in Melbourne Australia, called VCA. That’s when I really started focusing on finding my own cinema as a director.
Winning at Cannes is quite a feat, can share your experience at this film festival?
It really came as a huge surprise. I wasn’t prepared for it at all, I was really speechless on the stage, I couldn’t really think anymore as if my brain just stopped. And at the back of the stage, I couldn’t help myself but cry. I just couldn’t control the emotion. Before that, during the festival, I was actually trying to take it easy, because I got sick in the beginning of the festival, so I didn’t really go crazy. I was only trying to see one or two films a day, just a few meetings for my feature films, and hang out with my friends for a few drinks at night. I was trying to get at least 7 hours sleep every day.
What advice would you give to young people who would like to get into directing?
I’m not really sure I am qualified to give any pieces of advice. I can only share something I have learned on my journey that I thought was really helpful. I think honesty is the most important thing if you want to become an artist. To me, I see a film as an art form, a beautiful media, and that beauty, only comes out when you are honest about what you are doing and your intention of doing it.
What are you doing next?
At the moment, I’m focusing on writing the script of my first feature film. It’s a feature version of my graduation film, Under the Sun, which was also selected at Cannes. It’s a story about a journalist trying to report a dispute between two families that cause by an incident. The project just won the CNC script writing grant at Cannes Film Festival this year and I’m just trying to focus on finishing the writing, so hopefully, I will be able to start shooting it in near future.