Bai Xue graduated from the Director Department (major in features) of Beijing Film Academy in 2007, and was admitted as a MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in the Director Department of Beijing Film Academy in 2013. In 2017, she participated in the 2nd CFDG China Young Film Director Support Program (and the “Fresh Green Program”) organized by China Film Director’s Guild and was among the top five. Films independently directed by her include THE FAT GIRL, HOME.
THE CROSSING is Bai Xue’s first long feature film completed in 2018. It was screened as the opening film of the Discovery unit in the 43rd Toronto International Film Festival. The film won the Best Film for Fei Mu Awards in the 2nd Pingyao International Film Festival.
CFM: How did you come up with the idea of creating a story like THE CROSSING?
Bai Xue: As I grew up in Shenzhen, I always wanted to write a story about Shenzhen although I went to university in Beijing when I was 18. In 2015, the theme crossed my mind, and I felt it was very relevant to our times as it was a product of a very special period. Cross-border school children are exposed to the backgrounds of the two places and have different values. I wanted to write about characters against such a backdrop, which I thought was the social responsibility of filmmakers. I felt that I should do it. Then I spent two years conducting interviews and investigation, and slowly completed the story. I just wanted to write about the story of Pei Pei, and did not worry too much about other things, as this character is rich enough. It is not just a film about youth, neither is it a simple story about a teenage girl.
CFM: Some reviews speak highly of the “Hong Kong flavor” of the film. How did you deal with such a context in the creation process?
Bai Xue: As the film was shot in Hong Kong, there is bound to be a strong Hong Kong flavor. Hong Kong is a very special environment, the streets are especially bright, and regional characteristics are very obvious. However, neither the cameraman nor I myself is from Hong Kong, and we have never lived in Hong Kong, so we could see Hong Kong with fresh eyes. I feel such a sense of strangeness and distance are actually helpful for creation as it presents a fresh perspective.
CFM: The creation team consists of members from Hong Kong, mainland China, Taiwan and France. How did you manage the team integration and cooperation?
Bai Xue: I think the luckiest thing in making this film is that I managed to secure a group of like-minded creators, who have aesthetic concepts about films that are similar to mine, and worked hard to achieve what I wanted for the film. Most of the creators were my schoolfellows of 2003 at Beijing Film Academy. They have all been working in this industry for more than a decade and are very mature. As I am a new director, they came to help me when I set off to direct this film. Siu Hong Cheung is an important artist in Hong Kong and the winner of the Best Design Award of the 54th Golden Horse Award. Editor Mathew is a French, Sun Yang is half Hong Kong and half Taiwan, and Mathew’s editors are from Taiwan. Ours was quite a hybrid team.
The most outstanding characteristic of our team was that everyone was focusing on the creation process. I myself did not think this was something special, but they felt the atmosphere was extremely valuable. For example, we read the script together before starting the camera, and we had heated discussion about the creation, but we had very good personal relationship. Everyone wanted to make this film a success, and it was our ownership that gave a special cohesion to this film. Some friends asked me whether it was a smooth process. Actually we ran into difficulties from time to time, but what mattered most was that everyone wanted to make concerted efforts to solve the problems. Every film crew and every film will encounter different problems, and we just need to solve them. We were very happy working together, and such an atmosphere was very conducive to creation. If everyone was only concerned about when we could finish the film, it did not help with the creation. I feel we all enjoyed the process very much.
CFM: In the entire creation process of THE CROSSING, did you have any regrets?
Bai Xue: Frankly, I think the film has better presentation than the script. This is because I was in Beijing when the script was written. We found many specific scenes were better than what we thought when we were actually onsite in the real environment.
Talking about regrets, it really boils down to how you look at things. It is not possible to score 100 in everything we do, especially when there are many restrictions in making a film. It is really a test for a director to seek breakthroughs amid these restrictions. Without such an ability to adapt, things will get out of control. We had such problems in the process of making the film, but I accepted them, and made quick changes.
The ending of the film is a regret for me, but I think this is the best I can do at the moment given my realm of thought. I am not able to think of a better ending than this. I think I just need to accept my current age, thoughts and world outlook.
CFM: In 2018, many good films with realistic themes were produced in mainland China. What do you think are the difficult areas in the creation of films with realistic themes?
Bai Xue: I think the beauty about films is that they reflect things extracted from real life. They come from life but go beyond it. The extract reflects the creator’s insight and level of thinking. I myself benefit a lot from this approach of creation. As I am not very good at fabricating a world out of the void, I try to find what interest me in life and then present them by means of films. Therefore, on the one hand, I am not a smart person as I need to find what I am interested in in life, but on the other hand, I feel this is a very convenient approach for creators as life brings us so much that is beyond our imagination. Think of the fresh and vivid faces of characters… These are things that influence my creation.
CFM: As a new director, can you share your experience in participating in the Fresh Green Program and how you feel about it? What specific help a new director can get from such a director support program?
Bai Xue: First of all, the Fresh Green Program helped me locate powerful film companies like Wanda and secure strong funding. At important moments, including recommendation to the film festival and the distribution and publicity of the film, coaches of the program wholeheartedly provide full support and unselfish help without asking for anything in return. I feel the coaches of the Fresh Green Program are really doing something very important for China’s film industry. The platform promotes the connection between directors with insight and scripts and the core part of the industry, instead of exploring outside the industry where there is no way to find any access to the industry. I believe this first step is very important and can help young creators a lot. As long as you have good scripts, everyone will help you.
CFM: THE CROSSING was screened both in Pingyao and Toronto. What is the difference you see in the response of and reviews from foreign and domestic audiences?
Bai Xue: They both say it is very entertaining. When the film was shown in Toronto International Film Festival, the overall atmosphere was relaxing and the process was happy. Originally I was a bit worried whether the audience would understand the film given their special social background. But they completely got it, and were able to project it to their own life. For example, some journalists from Hollywood said it was also the case with the youth in the US. Except for the special social background, everyone understands the film. In Pingyao, Chinese audiences thought this film was cool, novel and different.
CFM: Do you have any new creation plan lately? What themes and types that you like to try most?
Bai Xue: I have, but I cannot talk about it now. It is also a realistic theme.
I am still interested in dramas and the consolidation of some types. As I am actually not an author-type director, I will focus on topics I like, and create films with their own unique temperament that can have dialogue and exchange with audiences. I think this is very important.