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Interview. Giulio Vicinelli interviewed chinese film director Rong Guang Rong on his film and documentary "The Children Are Not Afraid Of Death, Children Are Afraid Ghosts", runner up in this year's Pesaro Film Fest in June

Rong Guang Rong and the “emotions” that bind all things together

In your film documentary many different “emotional documents” are involved: personal memories, interviews with children, fantasies and nightmares etc. Can you explain how you could build a unitary meaning from such heterogeneous “bricks”? I don’t remember many fades in your editing, the viewer is suddenly thrown from one scene to another. Can you tell me why you chose this “violent” editing, only made of cuts? And what connection the edit has with the general meaning of the film?

I think that “emotions” are the forces that bind all things together.

I haven’t experienced any school or academic education so both in my writing and in my approach to the visual I am quite free, I naturally avoid the restrictions of rules and chains. Before starting the editing part I wrote a very short novel with the same title of the film, it worked as a kind of script for the editing, it helped me to analyze and put together all the pieces; every time I started writing, I was caught by physical and emotional stimulation,fear, anger, sadness, etc., all sorts of emotions experienced there in Guizhou and in my childhood hit me strongly. I tried to convey it in a visual then aural language, then again into visual with the editing work.

I hope the viewers of the film feel like they’re going through everything with me.
Emotional expression is very important in my film. The shooting, the voice over and the editing all aim to bring the viewer to feel emotions rather than giving answers.

In a part of  “The Children Are Not Afraid Of Death, Children Are Afraid Ghosts” it seems as though a subtractive will was guiding your choices, very long scenes in which there are no movements at all, in the camera or inside the screen, static photographic images of death and lifelessness. Can you explain this expressive attitude?

First of all I should say that this is a film about death, not only physical, but also metaphorical, we experience death many times in our lives, and in many ways…
When I think about the idea of death I feel it as a perpetual, continual quiet…
Quiet, stillness, like everything in this world, is not always a good thing..
When I arrived there, on those Guizhou mountains, abandoned by civilization,
I felt like nothing was possible; Poverty, drought, ignorance, violence..
You can’t see the possibility of all this changing into something else, those kids’ life condemned to a perpetual haunting and desperate “quiet”.
For me, perhaps, this deliberately created stillness in images.
But stillness and quiet is also the only way for us to calm down and think…
So there is a double and controversial use of the stillness in the film, this maybe creating a sense of uncomfortable feeling, annoyance and embarrassment in some points.

When we’re lying on the couch like we’re dead, watching the news,
when we stare at the tragedies on TV and turn around and have our dinner,
this is also “quiet “ but what kind of quiet? Those images we watch on TV are “non condensed pictures”, they are human-less because they are just media and not an expression of an emotion.

We must try to calm down and start to be tolerant, this is also what the stillness in the film will try to tell you.

This film is like a poem about blackness. Darkness and shadows have a primary importance in your visual imagery. 

As a film director I often run away from and somehow, sometimes, hate the existence of black, but I’m obsessed with the color of the night.
The color of the night is grave, the night is solemn; the ugliness of human nature and reality is something inevitable when you tell a story;
And the night is the only one able to hide something carefully without hurting anyone, good or bad.

In my opinion, the night is free, although its darkness is dangerous, so dark that you can’t even see your hands, but in this danger (darkness) the punishment is equal to all.

I know this could be seen as a pessimistic argument, but when we live in a society where we can’t see the truth. We should rather put ourselves in the dark of the night where we can only make contemplated and mindful choices only trusting our sensibility, instead of letting ourselves stare at the light of the sun where all is claimed to be clear, where it pushes us to sudden choices and to ignore everything else.

But maybe this is just my kind of choice and doesn’t work for everyone…

The world of childhood is another main visual and narrative theme of the film, it’s colourful and sparkling, something completely different, from the semantic point of view…

The child is the embodiment of happiness for me, nothing dirty can hold back their pursuit of happiness.

Somehow, for me to show them and their world in color is like giving them a medal, to reward them and wish them a happy life; they are the only ones who can stare at the light and still not be confused.. their sensibility is pure.

Some of the imaginary characters living in childrens’ games, like the crocodile man, does not seem to be so imaginary…

Most of the characters of the animated part come from reality, the people I met there. I tried to use a child’s mind to choose the animals that represent them; the crocodile man for example was one of the men who stopped us and asked us to leave the village, he has a huge scar going from one ear to the other, like a huge mouth on his face.

The documentary suddenly becomes impossible, fiction is the only way left to reach the truth and the artificial reproduction of reality seems to be the only way in which cinema can metabolize it..

This question is interesting for me and important, thus difficult to answer here.
I will face this issue about “fictional“, “plot” and “reality” more deeply in my future works, I guess.

I’m quite pessimistic about the adult world. Everyday, because of what I see and hear, I feel the need to put myself in a suspicious and detective mode, keeping doubts alive.

I do not want to lose the ability to distinguish and have doubts, this takes a lot of energy for me, so the only way I can really feel free is to put myself in a “wild land” when creating my works.

I have given up facing arguments with cold-blooded people, the fictional parts in my films are like little weapons I use to attack what we call reality, they are actions, gestures; they are just like when a little child sees a big, high and bright cleaned window, he has been told not to touch it, but nobody explained why, he just follows his instinct and throws a stone against it to see what happens…

A more rational answer, I think is that the film cannot solve the reality of the problem, or, we can also say that it is impossible for mankind to achieve an ideal society, but I don’t give up on such ideals, so I ask questions and communicate with people in movies.

Cinema is far from reality, but through our efforts, we aren’t giving up the hope of bringing reality closer to our films.

There is no explicit political contents or representation of political-economical power, but your spectator can’t stop from interpreting your movie in a political way, and from creating a personal opinion about the way in which institutional power treats the most defenseless part of population. How did you work in order to let this contents emerge?

I think the absence of a direct political denounce comes naturally from my approach to what is “ humanity”; our strongest weapon is our sensibility, if we give up feeding our sensibility everything else makes no sense.
The film wants  the viewer to feel emotions, feel indignation and think with its own mind through its sensibility.

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