It is possible nowadays to accept a new phase while affirming the life to date. People face the changes in the society, accept them and adapt to them. That is the theme of this film.
Born in northeast China, Zhang Meng graduated from China Central Academy of Drama. In 2007 he made his directorial debut with Lucky Dog, which earned him the Asian New Talent Award at the 10th Shanghai International Film Festival, and the Best New Director at the Chinese Media Awards 2009. He directed his first documentary Mr. Zhang and His Dog in 2008, and THE PIANO IN A FACTORY in 2010.
INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR ZHANG MENG AND LEAD ACTOR WANG QIAN-YUAN – by Yosuke Wakaki, Tokyo Int’l Film Festival
Is it correct to understand that “The Piano in a Factory” is set in the first half of the 1990s in a north-eastern town in China?
Zhang Meng (Zhang): Time and place are not specifically set, but it is certainly set in the period when the heavy industrial area in north eastern China was hit by the policies of reform and openness in China. The state of society from the mid-1980s to the end of the 1990s is the backdrop to the story.
Why did you choose this period? I believe it was after Deng Xiaoping’s famous southern tour of China in 1992 when reform and openness gathered pace.
Zhang:In 1992, I was a 17-year-old in north-eastern China. I remember that period in the midst of my adolescence vividly. Every family was hugely impacted by the waves of change. The north-eastern region has regained economic stability now, but it was unstable in those days. I wanted to make a film about working class people.
Wang Qian-Yuan (Wang): I am also from north-eastern China. I was still immature in those days, but the air of the period influenced the frame of mind significantly. People who are in an older generation than the director and I, for example my father, my father’s friends and grandfather, they took the brunt of the change in society. But I was on the periphery and that period really interests me.
I wasn’t quite sure where the film was going at the beginning, but as soon as they start building a steel piano, it became apparent that Chen and his fellows are all skilled workers. Seedy-looking men begin to glow as the story goes on to the second half.
Zhang: People in that generation are called the “lost generation,” referring to the workers who were thrown out of their jobs in the state factory. The men in THE PAINO IN A FACTORY are in a stagnant situation, but in the second half, they return to their disused factory. Through their almost eccentric attempt to build an all-steel piano, they rekindle their skills and rediscover the joy of working.
Qian-yuan, you look sophisticated, but your character, Chen Guilin, is grouchy and selfish, and yet considerate of his family and friends. Through his limited facial expressions, his character was superbly expressed. Would you tell us about the acting plan and casting, please?
Wang: The director and I discussed the character and created it together. But I just know the air of the men from north-eastern China in those days. They were abrupt just like Chen Guilin. Even those in their 30s looked very mature and old, unlike nowadays. So I tried to recreate the people in my memory
Zhang: Chen Guilin gradually took shape as I wrote the script. He is tall, slender, and the type of person who looks cold in winter even with a coat on. He is boorish but his gentle eyes give away to the audience that he is a good man. He is somewhat pitiful and everyone ends up caring for him. When his image was set to this point, I thought Wang is perfect for the role. He joined the Central Academy of Drama in 1993, and I joined in 1995. I think we must have been linked by fate.
Wang: Both of us are from the north-eastern region and the same school, and I can rely on him. Also, the director’s father was a film director, and my father was an actor (who makes an appearance as a seasoned engineer). We have a lot in common.
After your debut work, “Lucky Dog,” you made some documentaries. Do you think the experience is reflected in this film, for example in acting direction?
Zhang: I made two documentaries, and the experience was significant. In a documentary you have to calmly follow the subject. The experience helped me to recreate the recent past realistically. In addition to realism, surrealistic expressions were needed to portray the truth during that period exactly as I remember it. I kept it in mind to create the magic surreal atmosphere where reality and unreality coexist, for example, the scene where the snow falls in the factory. (note: His favorite films are Akira Kurosawa films and Italian neo-realism.)
Chen builds a piano, initially for his daughter, but it gradually changes its nature to settle his own adolescence. The ending suggests Chen’s fresh start while the chimneys, the symbol of the factory, are destroyed. Are these two linked in the theme of an end of a period?
Zhang: The society moves on at speed while Cheng and his colleagues try to remember the time when working class people lived proudly by building a steel piano. However, they know well that they cannot go back to those days. The collapsing chimneys represent the crumpling of their pride. They lose the factory where they spent nearly 40 years, and another change awaits them. It is possible nowadays to accept a new phase while affirming the life to date. People face the changes in the society, accept them and adapt to them. That is the theme of this film.
Caroline Cobb Wright will be the Juror for Riverviews 3rd Annual Juried Art Show was born in Charleston, SC and grew up in Greenwood, SC. She received her BA in Art History, Journalism, and Studio Art from Washington and Lee University and her MA in Art History from the University of Virginia.
Caroline worked previously at the National Gallery of Art, Monticello, Ravenscroft School, and the NC Governor’s School. She is a Governor-appointed member of the NC State Art Society Board of the North Carolina Museum of Art and is Vice Chair of the Works of Art Committee that approves museum acquitions.
Caroline lives in Richmond, VA with her husband Richard, golden retriever, and Virginia farm cat. Her studio is located in the arts disctrict of Manchester at Plant Zero (# 33), Zero East 4th Street; Richmond, VA 23224. More about Caroline here
In September, Shelly Rogers will come to Lynchburg to show her film “Whats Organic About Organic?” Raised in rural East Tennessee, Shelley Rogers has a Master’s degree in Media, Culture, and Communication from New York University and a Bachelor’s degree in Art History from Smith College. Rogers produced and directed the documentary film What’s ‘Organic’ About Organic?, which was inspired by her study with seasoned documentary filmmakers, George Stoney and Lora Hays, and interest in food politics, public health, and environmental stewardship. The film has received critical acclaim and has been viewed by thousands of people, with screenings both nationally and internationally. In addition to distributing the film to educational institutions, Rogers has developed the film’s “Green & Screen” campaign, an innovative engagement strategy that combines screenings of her film with volunteer or awareness-building activities to encourage audience participation in the organic food movement. Rogers also co-founded and co-curates a documentary screening series in New York City, called “Hungry Filmmakers,” which is accompanied by a panel discussion and reception with the filmmakers whose upcoming works are related to food and agriculture. Rogers operates Little Bean Productions and has collaborated in filming several food projects including The Dirt Café Sitopia Debate and Salon, Hungry New York, and The Rye Bread Project.
What do like most about living/working at RV? The space, the privacy, the whole atmosphere; knowing that people are working all around you.
How did you end up in Lynchburg and at RV? I’m from upstate NY originally. I moved here from Berea College during the arts and crafts movement. It was difficult because there were not many galleries in Lynchburg at that time. I started working on RV ten years ago and I’m delighted to see more things happening downtown now.
How did your art evolve since moving to Lynchburg? When I moved here, I took painting and sculpture classes because that was all that was offered. I started my career in fashion design and had my clothing modeled at VMFA. Fiber art was a natural extension of fashion.
What do you think of the debate of “craft vs. art”? I don’t think there should be a distinction. The 20th century opened up so many new materials in art; freedom to explore these materials was the most important thing.
Tell me a little more about your own work. I don’t want to be political or tell people what to think. I just want people to enjoy the shapes, colors, and textures. I work individually and I sometimes collaborate with a theatre designer and composer. A lot of my individual work is created for commissions. Right now, I’m creating work for a solo show at the Academy of Fine Arts; I’ll have the full gallery at the AFA in March 2010
In 2009, Jennifer Gauthier, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Randolph College interviewed the 2009 Cineviews special guest, Tuck Tucker, supervising storyboard director for SpongeBob Square Pants
JG: What are some of your favorite cartoons? What did you grow up watching?
TT: I loved old MGM, Warner Brothers, and Disney Cartoons as a child. Sometimes, my dad would actually sit down and watch a couple with us on Saturday mornings. I think, however, the first character that I tried to draw was AstroBoy. Later I started getting more into Disney features. I loved the craft that they showed. When Don Bluth came along with The Secret of NIMH (1982), I had just finished high school. I thought, now there’s somebody I could work for. That was not to be, and I was later glad. When I moved to LA in ‘84, I started transitioning away from my interest in features and started to work in television. It was far more vibrant and clever than any features being done at the time. The Simpsons and Ren and Stimpy were showing the world what animation could do for entertainment, and the talent started migrating towards these shows. In the last ten years or so, I’ve become a fan of Miyazaki’s feature films. I loved every one of them that I’ve seen
JG: What training did you have for getting into the animation field? How did you get started in the business?
TT: I was taking classes at VCU in the early 80s with two guys who had a studio in Richmond. They had a small studio called Candy Apple, and I worked there in the summer between semesters. The head of the studio was Steve Segal. As it just so happened, he decided to go to LA when I graduated and went with him. In spite of having my student films and portfolio stolen from our car the day we arrived in Hollywood, we were both able to get work easily. He eventually ended up at Pixar before going back to teaching.
JG: What was your first big break?
TT: There were a lot of first big breaks. I think the very first one was working for Segal, before I ever went to LA.
JG: SpongeBob is reminiscent of the the Looney Tunes cartoons – why is this do you think? How is the animation process for SpongeBob different from other contemporary animated television shows?
TT: It’s true we do owe a lot to what was being done in the 30s and 40s, namely that content is decided by people who draw, not by writers in the usual sense of the word. No two ways about it. Animation by animators is better. It’s physical, funny, and springs from a far less hackneyed braintrust than animation from scripts.
JG: Who is your favorite character on the show? Why?
TT: I like the characters that channel adult feelings and insecurities. Mr Krabs, Plankton, and Squidward spring to mind. Also, there are people writing for the show who do a better job of getting into character for SpongeBob and Patrick than I do.
JG: Do you have any reminiscences of Lynchburg that have influenced you in your career?
TT: It’s funny, I’ve always enjoyed the reputation of farm boy on whatever show I’m on. Even by 1979 Lynchburg standards I was considered a bit of a hick. Probably because my closest friends were either involved with farming or hunting and fishing. Getting back to your question, I’ve been given assignments because of my familiarity with things “country” or “southern”. I think that these things influence my work honestly and in the very best sense. Take for instance the character Stinky on Hey Arnold. He was a rube from top to bottom. There are definitely aspects of growing up in the ‘burg that informed Stinky’s behavior. On another occasion, I was given the gas station hicks in the SpongeBob Movie for the same reason. Steve Hillenberg thought I would do a better job on that sort of thing and he was right. I don’t flinch from these sorts of assignments, I court them. If there’s anything from my past that might help inform a character or joke, I jump at the chance to let those influences inform the work