Interview with Qi Yang director A Gentle Night
Qi Yang is a film maker who brings real life tales to the screen, taking events straight from today's headlines and turning them into viscerally packed cinematic stories. His latest short film "A Gentle Night" a gritty story of a distraught mother living every parents worse nightmare and is currently receiving rave reviews. His heart wrenching tale won Qi the Palme D'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival making him the first Chinese film maker to be awarded this prestigious and much coveted prize. When I spoke with Qi I take the opportunity to congratulate him on his historic win at Cannes. Thank you very much! It was a great honour for me also. But I think it’s in the past now, so I have been trying to forget about it.
What went through your mind as you heard your name called out?
I wasn’t really expecting it! I genuinely thought another film was going to win. So, I totally blanked out, I just stood there, didn’t know what to do for a very long time. Until my editor Carlo grabbed me and hugged me, then I realised I had to hug them.
Again congratulations, well deserved. So tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from and how did you get into filmmaking?
I was born and raised in a small Chinese city called Changzhou. I went to Australia to pursue higher education after high school and unfortunately, I did both the Bachelor’s degree and Masters in filmmaking. So, I pretty much know nothing outside of filmmaking. And even filmmaking was kind of a random pick. I didn’t have any background in filmmaking. I was trained to paint my entire childhood, but I never wanted to be a painter, so when I had the chance to go overseas, I thought I really liked watching films, so I picked filmmaking, without the slightest idea what filmmaking is.
Interesting. What sort of stories do you like to tell?
The stories that mostly happened around me or in my life and the ones that I don’t understand. Filmmaking is sort of a way for me to understand myself and the world around me.
What drew you to the real story behind “A Gentle Night”?
The story was inspired by a report I saw in a local newspaper. In a small local community, there had been a few kids who had gone missing, then a few months later, more kids went missing. And none of them had been found at the time. Then a few months later, a report says all of them suddenly returned, without any explanation. I was really intrigued by this news, I kept wondering why it happened and what happened before and after the kids went missing. So those reports and my fascination stayed with me for a very long time and it came back to me again when I wanted to make a new film. So naturally, I decided to work on this.
It certainly is an emotional story and your star Shuxian Li gives a very powerful performance. How were you able to get such emotion from her?
It was all her work. Even though she isn’t a professional actress, she was so amazing, that I didn’t really have to do much. Most of the time she gets what I want and what I say. Working with her was just so effortless. I don’t know how she was able to do it, but I am glad I cast her in the film.
She did a fantastic job. How were you able to tap into that all too very real fear every parent dreads?
Well, like what I said before, I always take real sorties from my life. Growing up I was a very rebellious kid and I had ‘ran away’ a few times”. So, I sort of borrowed a lot from my own experience.
Aside from winning the Palme D’Or what have been some of the highlights of your career so far?
Just being able to keep making films and writing scripts.
To date, your work has mainly consisted of short films. Any plans to break into feature-length projects?
I’m in lock-down mode finishing my feature script at the moment. So hopefully soon!
Who in the world of film would you most like to work with?
The French film star, that would be awesome. What is the appeal, for you as a filmmaker, of short films as a storytelling medium?
A short film is always a form of an experiment for me. I never set out to make a masterpiece or even a “film”. I always see it as a chance to exercise or experiment something I want to do but never done. It’s a relatively inexpensive chance to fail.
So what do you have lined up in the future?
I’m finishing my feature script and hoping it will happen soon. And maybe one more short before the feature. I look forward to it. Thank you Qi for taking the time for this interview and again congratulations on winning the Palme D'Or. I wish you the best with your feature length film and future projects.