The directors of three Chinese films, on the short-film lists for Academy Award nominations, tell stories from a unique perspective.
The three directors were born in China but trained in the West. Li Yatao, who directed the film Carry On, and Hu Wei, director of Butter Lamp, are two of 10 films out of an original 141 aiming for a Live Action Short Film category nomination.
Mu Zijian's One Child is one of eight contenders out of an initial 58 for a nomination in the Documentary Short Subject category.
The nominations will be announced on January 15, and the winners will be unveiled at the 87th Academy Awards show on February 22 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California.
The recognition comes at a time when China is experiencing a theater boom. China's box office sales reached U.S. $4.8 billion, 36 percent more than last year, and growing faster than the global average increase of 4 percent.
"We have seen more and more new Chinese filmmakers winning awards outside China," said David Hou, vice-president of Drama Fever, a company distributing international TV and movie content in the United States. "Film festivals around the world are taking notice."
To win an international audience, however, "you have to tell the story of your own country in a global way, otherwise you wouldn't be understood", said Li Yatao, director of Carry On. The movie tells the story of a father and daughter fleeing the Anti-Japanese War from 1937 to 1945, during which millions of Chinese were massacred.
The father tried to put his daughter in a food bag so she could be transported out of a dangerous village in a food truck. Although a Japanese soldier discovered the escape attempt, he decided not to interfere after staring for moments at the father. The father was killed with fellow villagers in the end.
"I got the idea from one of Michel de Montaigne's essays, in which the author talked about a story in ancient Rome," Li said. "I learned that enemies wouldn't spare you because you are pathetic, but they will probably do so because you are brave."
"The original idea came from ancient Rome," he said. "Montaigne was French, and my story is about China and Japan, so people will find it easier to understand." Carry On has won several international awards, including Best of Festival Award at the Palm Spirngs Short Fest last year, the largest short-film festival in North Ameirca.
While Li tackles a more historical topic, the other two directors explore more contemporary issues. Mu's One Child is a 40-minute documentary about parents who lost their only children and struggled to have more children after the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake.
Hu's 15-minute Butter Lamp is about a Tibetan photographer shooting portraits for fellow Tibetans in remote nomadic areas in which locals took portrait photos in front of different backgrounds. The production was finished with a camera in a fixed position.
Actors and actresses in nearby Tibetan communities spent 15 minutes taking pictures in turns after knowing their positions, and the production team didn't edit or cut the raw material. In an interview with Chinese magazine New Weekly in 2013, Hu said he wanted to offer his perspective on faith.
"All these films offer international viewers a different perspective from Chinese media and Western media," said Liu Yufan, a New York-based film critic with EnMaze, a movie production and distribution company helping Chinese films in the US.
One Child studied China's One Child Policy, which left more than 1 million couples without siblings, including earthquake victims.
"I hope people from different backgrounds could understand the true stories going on," said Mu, who already has won the 41st Student Academy Award. Instead of just talking, he transported his equipment with cows into remote villages, and stayed with families of the victims.
"Western institutions have a more diversified environment than their counterparts in China," said Liu, "so you can find people from different cultural and professional backgrounds in the campus, so you know better about society and humanity."
Li graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Mu studied journalism and documentary production at New York University, and Hu studied at Le Fresnoy in Tourcoing, France.
Only one Chinese film has won an Academy Award as a short film. The Blood of Yingzhou District, a production of Chinese and US filmmakers, was a Documentary Short winner for the 2006 awards. It told the story of orphans whose parents died of AIDS.
Lu Huiquan in New York contributed to this story.
(Source: China Daily)
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