Beijing filmmaker pays tribute to his past – while studying in New York
A growing number of Chinese filmmakers are shining on the world stage, and some are not renowned directors or actors – just people who turn resolutions into reality, Zhang Xingjian reports.
Wang Hanxuan's dream of producing a film of his own and winning recognition has come true, as the 19-year-old just received the news that his latest work has been shortlisted in the Rome Prisma Independent Film Awards 2019.
"The moment I received the big news, I just went wild with joy. I knew that my efforts have been worthwhile," Wang told China Daily.
The young filmmaker is studying in New York, and the nominated film, Chasing Shadows, is based on his personal experiences.
The film revolves around the story of Shao, a nostalgic man, who indulges in the past.
The old days become more mysterious as he tries to recall all the details from memory. And he wants to go back to the summer when he was sixteen, and lives in his memory forever.
Even if he gradually realizes the betrayals and breakups in that summer, he chooses to forget them and embrace the past he believes in.
"The movie is my tribute to my invaluable past memories, but people can never be sure if their memories can wholly represent the true past," he said.
An accidental filmmaker
Born in Beijing around the turn of the century, Wang didn't think he would pursue filmmaking.
He participated in the University of California, Berkeley's summer school in 2015 with a friend however and that changed.
"My parents wanted me to be lawyer in the future, so all my courses were about law," Wang said.
"But my friend's schedule was much more interesting, and he could watch movies in class and then discuss those films with classmates."
Exchanging views with friends, he gradually found himself familiar with the most talked-about films, and became increasingly confident sharing his opinions.
That summer he realized he wanted to learn more about the film industry.
Back in Beijing he decided to study overseas after graduation and focus on film. Luckily his parents supported him.
For most Chinese students, high school time is a time of academic pressure – not so for Wang.
In addition to preparing for his foreign language exam, he spent significant time learning about the performing arts, including musical theatre, drama, and film.
During three years of high school, Wang worked as an actor, screenwriter, director and producer.
A production of Hello, Dolly! that he produced and starred in won many fans and gave him the chance to begin rehearsals for a Beijing high school tour.
He says a project's success is determined by teamwork, and that he wants to experience different roles on his way to better understanding film.
From imitation to innovation
During his last few days of high school, he was admitted to the New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.
While applying he produced his first film, 27 Minutes, in tribute to Hong Kong director Wong Karwai.
"Wong is one of my favorite directors, and I have seen all his movies. My work 27 Minutes is a total imitation of Wong's film style, and I was really proud of myself at that stage," he says.
Looking back on his first film, he now has new insight.
"The original intention of making a movie is not to imitate someone else, but to return to the art itself; namely you have something to say, or you have the impulse to create new ideas."
"If you just want to show off your skills or to copy your favorite movies with your own machine, then I don't think there is any meaning," he says.
He has now produced four films: 27 Minutes, Color, Aliya, and Chasing Shadows, his work exploring the themes of time, memories, US social issues, and self-expression.
He says films are more than visual documents – they are testaments to our lives, and the role movies play should not be underestimated.
It's award season
Awards don't mean everything, but they can give encouragement to young filmmakers at the start of their careers.
Wang's fourth work, Chasing Shadows, has been shortlisted at this year's Miami Independent Film Festival and Rome Prisma Independent Film Awards.
"I am so honored to be a finalist at these film festivals and feel like my hard work is paying off," said Wang.
"No matter the final result, I am confident in moving forward."
The film premiered at Wang's high school, Beijing National Day School, and he received both positive and not-so-positive reviews from his schoolmates.
Wang said that he was grateful to the audience for taking the time to watch his film, and that all the comments he received – both good and bad – will help make him a better filmmaker.
Wang said he will continue to produce films and draw inspiration from his own stories, adding that he would like to work on pictures dealing with Chinese history and society.
"American stories have been among my favorite subjects. As an outsider I can see a different United States through my lens.
"I truly hope that I can turn the glorious years of China's past into a film in the near future," Wang said.