Canada’s film ‘ambassador’ to China looks to collaborate
Canadian filmmaker Christopher Lane isn’t going to let a little thing like a language barrier stand in the way of collaborating with his contemporaries in China.
Despite neither knowing the other’s language, Lane has been setting up future projects with Chinese director Wang Yimin, a 2015 Golden Panda award winner, purely through the translation function of the Chinese mobile messaging app WeChat.
“It’s a little crazy, but all of a sudden we discovered this button, and we were chatting back and forth, and we’re going to work together,” Lane laughed. “Whether I can come over here to do it, I don’t know, but I want to collaborate with Chinese artists using these locations [in China], and one thing I’d like to see is co-productions [between] people from China and Canada.”
Lane also can now add the unofficial title of the Canadian film world’s ambassador to China to his already stellar resume.
That’s because Lane — a director, producer, film historian and educator at the Toronto Film School (TFS) — is fresh off a seven-day exchange visit to Beijing organized by Vancouver’s Golden Panda North America International Short Film Festival.
“When I get home, I will shout from the mountaintops how incredible this has been,” he told China Daily of his trip and involvement in the festival on his second-to-last night in Beijing. “I will make sure all my students submit their films [to the festival] for a chance to go to China next year.”
Lane’s China visit was as part of the Golden Panda International Filmmakers Cultural Immersion Trip, an annual experience offered to the winners of the previous year’s Golden Panda Festival.
Held from March 29 to April 4, the 2016 edition took a young and multinational delegation of nine filmmakers to Beijing to explore the ancient and modern cultural achievements of China, as well as to engage in a campus visit and conversation with young Chinese filmmakers at the Beijing Film Academy.
As one of the judges of the third annual Golden Panda Festival in 2015, Lane was invited to travel with the festival winners to add a veteran’s perspective on the creative and professional inputs they experienced in China.
“Chris has got a good industry network in Toronto, he’s an educator, a judge at the Toronto Film School’s film festival, and he’s also a filmmaker himself, so we thought he was more than qualified and could bring a lot of expertise to judging our festival,” said Sandy You, executive member of the Cultural Immersion Trip committee.
“Later, for the Cultural Immersion Trip, we thought he’d be able to connect the young filmmakers on the trip, and the filmmakers and students we meet in China, to the resources at his school,” You said.
The committee’s expectations paid off in a big way. In just seven days, Lane got one of his fellow travelers to send a pitch package to him for feedback, advised another on transitioning between documentary to narrative filmmaking, initiated collaboration with a Chinese filmmaker, and started developing contacts and ideas for a plan to create an exchange program between his school and the BFA.
“Chris is super supportive and highly experienced in both documentaries and narrative, and it was helpful for me as a documentary filmmaker to see how he switches between those worlds that can sometimes feel disparate,” said fellow traveller Dara Kell, a New York-based South African filmmaker. “We were talking about me maybe working with him on writing for a documentary.”
“It was really good for us to hear from the other side of the judging experience of our submissions,” said American filmmaker Gary Lee, another traveler. “It was a good exchange for him and for us.”
Lane said he spent much of the trip “literally clowning with strangers”. From the Great Wall to the high-speed rail to Beijing’s traditional hutong neighbourhoods, he brought an infections joie de vivre to the group by, as he also said himself, “taking in everything I could – sights, sounds and delicious smells wafting this way and that way: It’s a sensory overload.”
The experience of being a Golden Panda Festival judge and visiting China seems to have started this process by exposing him to new knowledge about the aesthetics and environment of filmmaking in China, which he is eager to share with Canadian colleagues.
“I saw a lot of Chinese short films in the submissions, and I was mesmerized over and over again,” he said. “I was drawn in by the beauty, the pacing … like tai chi; they had a beautiful flow to them, and the locations were just sublime.”
“I need to come back because I have so many more questions. I saw the films in China and the Beijing Film Academy and was impressed. I see how they put together films and the machines and the business end of it, and now I’d like to learn more about the independent filmmaker.”
For Lane, because the BFA visit and the creative exchanges between international filmmakers throughout the trip were the highlights of his time in China, the task of setting up a student exchange program is among the first items on his to-do list after he is back in Canada.
“I’ve talked to some of the people [at BFA], and I think I’ve initiated a dialogue, which will hopefully present great opportunities for both sides,” he said.
“I think my students would benefit greatly from learning from the academy, and I also believe that their students would learn a lot from us, and I would love to accept them in our program.”
He also hopes to continue judging the Golden Panda Festival another year, as he believes it “is doing a great service: giving Canadian filmmakers and filmmakers from around the world the opportunity to experience seeing other people tell stories and share their storytelling sensibilities”.
“As different as we can be, our stories are very similar,” he said.
“I’ve been in the industry a long time and I work a lot -- well, it’s not work to me; I don’t punch out at the end of the day, and everything to me is cinematic,” he laughed.
“But I think we all have a feeling of rejuvenation from this trip, and I’m beyond inspired to do more things after meeting all these people and seeing where I can assist them.
“If we could mesh Western storytelling and Chinese storytelling together, it’d be beautiful,” he said.
Canadian filmmaker Christopher Lane being interviewed during a recent visit to China.
Lane (center) checks out exhibits at a graphics art show in Tianjin Ancient Culture Street.