VANISHING DAYS, the first feature film by the 22-year-old Chinese young director Zhu Xin, has successfully been selected into the list of the competition for the New Currents Program of the 23rd Busan International Film Festival.
The film was made and produced by Midnight Blur and Hangzhou Wushan Film and Television Company, with Hangzhou Chengying Co., Ltd. and a Korean company—Lu Films participating in its production. Moreover, the famous director Zhang Lv acted as the artistic consultant of this film; Zhou Jiali, a teacher from China Academy of Art supervised the production of this film. Together with producers Wang Jingyuan, Xia Yantao and Zhao Jin as well as the planner Shen Zhen, they helped the director accomplish the production of the film and made it step onto the international arena.
Zhu Xin was born in 1996 and graduated from the department of film and television of China Academy of Art. His short work WUSHAN COMMUNITY was once nominated for the Exploration Award of Amphibia Youth Film Festival. VANISHING DAYS is Zhu Xin’s first feature film. Zhang Xianmin, a promoter of Chinese independent films, has approved this film after watching its rough cut, and put it into the list of the annual recommendation of ten new directors in his “A Personal Recommendation of Films of 2017”. He said that the film “is narrated in an unhurried manner with a wide background”.
Taking Hangzhou as the film’s background, Zhu Xin has devoted his affection for this city to the film. He said that Hangzhou was more like a small park in his mind. He hoped that the film VANISHING DAYS could also be like a park for him to freely use imagination and in this park, there would be a path for approaching the abyss of doubt.
The film will have its world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival and at that time, Zhu Xin will also participate in the following communication activities. The Chinese Film Market has an interview with Zhu Xin.
CFM: It is said that you began the creation of VANISHING DAYS during your sophomore year. Is it true? Could you introduce the production process of the film?
ZX: During the early stage, the budget for the film was quite small. I borrowed 20,000 yuan from my parents. In the later period of reshooting, I spent several thousand yuan on my own. The total cost for the film was less than 30,000 yuan. There were a series of difficulties after the emergence of difficulty in the aspect of cost. The schedule was quite tight. During the first year of shooting, it took two or three days for setting the scenes. The house for shooting was not far away from my home, and so I could ride bicycle to the house and often stayed there thinking how to arrange it. The house was almost empty originally. The producers did not want to spend too much on props, and so we picked some objects from the rubbish heap downstairs or borrowed some objects from other people. There were few props that we bought ourselves. We spent several days contending with the people who collected the rubbish, and picked some old bedsteads and tables from the rubbish heap. I asked a friend who was majored in stage design in Italy to help me finish the design and give me some advice. It took much energy but little money to set the scenes.
We shot for a week but indeed six days in August 2016. Our schedule was quite tight and we worked from morning to night. After that, we spent one or two days in reshooting and stopped the work for a year. During that year, except for the scriptwriters, I did not communicate with anyone else. I often went to see the shooting sites for myself. It was a hard year for me. I had to face the whole project myself, without any communication with others. People around me did not understand what I was doing.
During the second year, I exerted all my strength for arranging a three-day shooting. Hence, the total shooting period for the film is less than half a month. It was the very beginning of the summer holiday at that time. I invited the producers there, so as to reshoot for three days. It took a day for shooting the scene of the Qiandao Lake. We shot from morning to night, and it was in the early morning of the second day that we returned to Hangzhou. All the members of the film crew were on the verge of breakdown. Here I want to express my special thanks to the friends who did their best that day.
I was just a sophomore student at that time and had not received any formal education on films. I had learned something about commercial shooting in the class of advertisement, but my experience was not enough. But I did not want to waste time for waiting; I did not want to shoot stories when I was older several years later. I thought the so-called professional skills were not the most important elements. The film might have been better if we made it in a way which better fit the operational mode of the film industry. However, I do not have any pity for the present film.
CFM: The background of the film is Hangzhou. You come from Hangzhou. How did you interpret this city in the film? What is the most special point of the city for you?
ZX: I think the most special point of Hangzhou is that: the living areas are close to scenic areas and it is also a relatively developed city. VANISHING DAYS is a map of Hangzhou drawn by myself. In fact, I had drawn the spot map of the whole story. There might be an island when we cross that mountain (a grafted mountain; the top was that of Laohe Mountain, and in the middle was Huanglong Hole; this scene was formed by the combination of the scenes of several mountains). The mountain and the island connected with each other naturally. But during the recent three or four years, great changes have taken place in Hangzhou. Many streets have been widened into big roads. I feel strange and do not like them very much. I think they are not beautiful at all as they give me a sense of plastic and fluid. I still prefer the places where I stayed once. Those natural scenes are relatively permanent and hard. I should reserve them through films.
CFM: Why did you choose the Thailand company for the post production of VANISHING DAYS? Could you share with us the feelings for this cooperation?
ZX: I like Apichatpong’s films very much and I also told this point to my producers. It was by chance that through in the introduction of Mr. Jacob Wong, we got in touch with White Light. Coincidentally, this team was the one for the post production of Apichatpong’s films. But they did not process films randomly. They watched our film and quite liked it, so they agreed to process it. They offered us a preferential price, and therefore we accomplish VANISHING DAYS together with limited cost for production.
During the cooperation with White Light and the team for sounds—Kantana (the recording team for Apichatpong), my most direct feeling was that they were so professional. All the members had patience and wonderful ability to understand. Sometimes, there was no need to explain my intention. Accomplishing the work with them was like the wonderful process of creating a new life.
CFM: The actors of VANISHING DAYS are all green hands. Could you talk something about their performance?
ZX: Sen Lin (Jiang Li) is my mother’s student. She’s the first actor that my mother recommended to me. My mother told me this little girl had great eagerness for performance. I went to the girl’s home immediately and negotiated with her parents. They said that we should be clear about the development of this film, and they also told me some lessons. They felt relieved when I assured them that I would try my best to shoot the film. During the whole shooting process, the girl’s mother was always accompanying her. Sometimes, my mother also came to the shooting sites for help. The girl called her teacher and the atmosphere was a little amazing. The girl was quite smart as she had great intelligence and ability of understanding, although it was the first long film that she took part in.
Aunt Qiuqiu is acted by Wang Jingyuan’s mother and Wang is one of the film’s producers. The actor who played as the mom is my mother’s old schoolmate. Xiaobo was acted by the science teacher who taught me this subject when I was in junior high school. We knew each other and rehearsed for a night in the lab. Then, he went to shoot the film with me.
I had much communication with these actors and the cooperation was quite smooth. But I did not ask them to understand the whole film.They even did not know the story at all.It was in those contexts that I would figure out their thoughts. The most important point is that, when we got along with each other for a period, I had known them to a certain extent. So I adjust some details for fitting their personalities and eventually their performance would fit the sense of the film. For example, during the first day of shooting, Aunt Qiuqiu was quite nervous when she faced Sen Lin. They gradually got familiar with each other later. The performance of these actors was best for me. They are the most suitable actors for VANISHING DAYS.
CFM: During the creation of this film, what is the most difficult part for you?
ZX: At first, I do not think the fund was a problem disturbing me. I think I should finish the film with the 30,000 yuan on hand. But sometimes, because of the lack of fund, some scenes could not closely follow my technical ideas. Yet technology was neither a major problem for me.
The most difficult part for me is the year of struggling with myself. The accomplishment of an independent film does need a lengthy period of waiting and production. During that period, I repeatedly revised and edited the film. It was the strong trust in my intuition that supported me to finish it. It is crucial for me to get through that silent year.
CFM: As a new director, what’s your opinion on the creation environment for independent film? And in your opinion, in which aspects should the industry provide new directors with support and help?
ZX: I think currently, there is much freedom for creating independent films. VANISHING DAYS was also created in an extremely free environment for creation. I think the industry should provide new directors with more chances for presentation such as film exhibitions. But there are only a few domestic film exhibitions, and the ones for independent creators are still too few. I think it is not hard for us to imagine that, the scene in which countless eyes meet the work on the big screen will be how encouraging and moving for a new director.
CFM: Do you have any plans to show the movie domestically? What plans and directions of creation do you have in the future? What film types and themes do you want to try most?
ZX: We do have a plan to show VANISHING DAYS domestically. Compared with the park of VANISHING DAYS, my future direction of creation will be a square. I hope that I can integrate more accurate contemporary spirit and regional features of the south region into my favorite suspense films. I want to try artistic biographical films most. I enjoyed Maurice Pialat’s VAN GOGH and Stanley Kubrick’s BARRY LYNDON very much.
CFM: What activities do you arrange when you participate in this Busan International Film Festival?
ZX: Except for the premiere and media activities of VANISHING DAYS, as a film fan, I’d like to watch many films that I am interested in.