Interview with director Yunhong Pu

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

When I was in middle school, my cousin got leukemia, an obscure disease that was barely known and paid attention by the society at that time. There were even rumors that donating bone marrow to patients with leukemia could harm donors’ health severely. However, my cousin’s case was fortunately reported on TV in my hometown. The report also cleared the fact that the bone marrow transplant would not harm the donor at all. My cousin not only received deep sympathy from many town people, but luckily found a volunteer to do the surgery as well. This was the first time that I realized the power of social media. Coincidentally, when I was a freshman, I met a group of parents collecting money for their children diagnosed with leukemia. To pass on the goodwill, I made my first documentary for these kids. After delivering their stories to the society, I made up my mind of becoming a social documentary filmmaker.

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

For me, attending School of Visual Arts was important in two ways. First, it gave me a good practical idea, technically I mean, of how to make a movie. The school was pretty conservative about the approach to production, which gave us a good sense of the way things are traditionally supposed to be done. I’ve often departed from the way we learned to do things in school, but having that foundation has informed my choices in a way that I’ve found very useful. The second, and most important thing, was meeting many of the people who have become my longtime collaborators. But I don’t think it is essential to go to a film institute. I believe film school is a tool, and a tool by itself is useless. A tool needs many other things in order for it to have a purpose, it’s there to create something else. There are so many tools. Use everything and anything to put yourself in the place where you feel creative and fascinated by what you’re doing and by life. Films really are about living life, and that part doesn’t happen inside a film school. Herzog said it best: “A boxer in Africa would be better trained as a filmmaker than if he graduated from one of the ‘best’ film schools in the world.”

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

To me, keep going is the harder thing. When I first start to make film, everything is unknown. That makes me don’t know how to start and where to start. At this time, my passion and interests to the film really helped me a lot. When I pushed myself to make take the first step, everything became simple. But keep going is a difficult thing. With the gradual deepening of the process, I encountered more and more difficulties. The content of some stories and the relationship between the characters involved in the stories has become more and more complicated. These things drained my passion and interest, making me sometimes find it difficult to stick to it. In order to solve these problems, I have been reminding myself of my goals to encourage myself.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

For me, the most important lesson I learned is to have a good communication with your character. When I just started shooting my documentary On Track. My character, Bruce, was not that positive at first. Because someone has filmed his story before, he is not very interested in filming and is not keen to share his story. When I realized this problem, I took the initiative to communicate with him, fully demonstrated my appreciation and curiosity of his works. When he felt that I really appreciate his work, he became very willing to share with me the interesting facts about his creation of this work. This experience made me realize that for a documentary director, good communication and interaction with the character will make the character’s emotions fuller and make the emotions conveyed by this film more real and strong.

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

For me, the biggest challenge when shooting is time schedule. At that time, due to the time schedule problem between Bruce and I, I only had one day to shoot. At the same time, the staff of the whole film is only myself. So I need to raise the shooting efficiency to the highest, and at the same time ensure that all the content is well organized before shooting, so that I can present an excellent and complete story in such a short time.

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

From my point of view, it is a trade-off between a wonderful clip and a wonderful whole movie. There are many times we may shoot a very attractive and wonderful clip, but it may take up too much time or have little effect on the concept of the whole movie. At this time, even if I sometimes feel a little pity for this wonderful clip, I think all the clips should serve the final quality of the entire film, I’ll choose to give up the wonderful clip.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

What the audience wants is emotional resonance. When the audience walks into the movie theater, their criterion for choosing a movie is whether they are interested in the movie. When they have watched a movie, the criterion for judging whether the movie is worth watching is whether the movie resonates emotionally. For filmmaker, this is one of our top priorities.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

The film festival is very important to the development of my project, because the film festival gives me the opportunity to promote and show my work to the audience. I do think this is necessary for filmmakers like me who have just started working here and need help.​​​  I can show my talent to people who don’t know me and get encouraged from the awards.

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

I’m not a crazy fan of any kind of cinema style. To me, there’s no bad or good cinema styles. There’s only fit or not fit. Cinema style is for the final effect of the film. Different movie types and different movie themes should be expressed in different cinema styles. It’s all for the film.

  • What qualities or attributes do you look for in people you are looking to employ or work with?

People who are responsible, passionate, capable, good at and willing to communicate with each other.