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A journey in filmmaking can start with a micro-short step

By XU FAN | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-12-07 08:36

Naxi ethnic group director Yang Chengcheng (second from left) speaking at the event. [Photo provided to China Daily]

When ethnic Naxi filmmaker Yang Chengcheng attended the first Asia Microfilm Art Festival in Lincang, Yunnan province, in 2013, the crowds and the limelight left him feeling a bit shy.

Then still a fresh graduate from Southwest Minzu University, Yang was invited to attend following his acting debut, A Major Served Villages, a 28-minute movie that won the Excellent Work Award in the Golden Begonia Awards, one of the highest honors given by the annual event.

A decade on, Yang, who spent his childhood in Lincang, recently returned to the festival as an established filmmaker to share his experience with young aspirants who are pursuing their cinematic dreams. He was also invited to present the Golden Begonia Awards to winners in three categories, including Best Music, at the closing ceremony.

Held between Nov 24 and 26, the annual festival is now on its 10th edition. In all, 848 films from 2,874 submissions were given awards, and the festival brought together over 1,000 guests from home and abroad, among them renowned actress Siqin Gaowa and veteran actor Zhang Fengyi.

Siqin Gaowa (left) and Zhang Fengyi attend the annual gala of the 10th Asia Microfilm Art Festival, which concluded in Lincang, Yunnan province, on Nov 26. [Photo provided to China Daily]

For Yang, the event held in Lincang, a historical city where 23 ethnic groups reside, marked the starting point for his own cinematic journey.

"When I was young, my parents were busy working in the city, so I was sent to live with my grandparents until I was 9," he recalls.

Yang's grandparents lived in Xinmin village in Fengqing county in Lincang. Having grown up in a serene natural environment, Yang is familiar with the daily life of farmers, such as planting rice seedlings, harvesting tea leaves, herding cows and cutting grass to feed pigs.

Xinmin's lush woods, clear sky, and vast terraced fields are etched in his mind, and prepared him for his directorial debut, Goodbye the Groundhog, which won the Best Children's Film at the 35th China Golden Rooster Awards last year.

Set in a far-flung location in Southwest China's Sichuan province, the movie recounts a merchant's trek to a mountainous village, where he plans to trade a groundhog for an iPad with a child, as he believes in a superstition that the wild creature can be used as a kind of medicine to treat his seriously ill daughter. Despite being beguiled by the flashy digital device at first, the child soon feels regret and, with the help of a friend, decides to save the groundhog.

"At the time, I was in my final year of studying for my master's degree in directing. One day, I came across an online video showing two groundhogs engaged in a fight, with another groundhog trying to intervene. The clip was fascinating," says the director.

As the video reminded him of his childhood, when he befriended a donkey and gave it a name, often talking to it, the director traveled to Mosika village, nestled deep in the mountains of Garze Tibetan autonomous prefecture in western Sichuan, where groundhogs and local residents live side by side.

He spent a lot of time observing and patiently waiting for the perfect moment to capture footage of the groundhogs, capturing images of them playing, relaxing in the sunshine, and enjoying food.

The movie also won the Special Commendations Award at the 13th Golden Koala Chinese Film Festival held in Australia in late October.

"Over the past 10 years, I have appreciated the recognition of the Asia Microfilm Art Festival. It encouraged me to strive for opportunities on a bigger stage," says Yang.

"Producing short films is a helpful method of preparing a filmmaker to make feature-length films," he adds.

Siqin Gaowa, who attended the festival as a celebrity award presenter, also says that although micro-short films are brief, they test the skills of a creator, as they require telling a character's entire life or a roller-coaster story within a very short time span.

Also the executive vice-president of the Asian Microfilm Academy of West Yunnan University, she says that she hopes young filmmakers will hone their skills through the medium of micro-shorts, which, at a runtime of around two minutes, have relatively low costs and shorter production cycles, in preparation for making feature films in the future.

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