Sim­plic­ity Is More Wor­thy of Pur­suit


Special Focus - - Contents - Fu Qiqi 浮琪琪

It has been six years since the first sea­son of ABi­te­ofChina was on air, when Ren Changzhen was fi­nally rec­og­nized by the pub­lic.

Be­ing the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the doc­u­men­tary, she was not well known by the au­di­ence un­til this spring, when

ABi­te­ofChina re­leased its third sea­son af­ter be­ing ab­sent from the screen for four years. Un­for­tu­nately it wit­nessed a sheer drop in its rat­ings. The pub­lic be­gan to miss the first sea­son and re­flected why the first sea­son was so pop­u­lar. And it is the mo­ment that Ren Changzhen came into spot­light.

Ne­ti­zens be­gan to surf her Weibo and ex­pressed their re­gret for the doc­u­men­tary. Ren Changzhen was peace­ful: “It’s all right.” De­spite her words, Ren Changzhen still had some new ideas in her in­ner mind. In her ar­ti­cle “Thoughts be­hind the show,” she hon­estly listed sev­eral prob­lems in

ABi­te­ofChina Ⅲ , namely, its “aca­demic style,” “blurred theme,” “over-sen­ti­men­tal sto­ries” and “over­loaded emo­tion.” She also said, “There are many meth­ods to pro­duce a bad film, but if you want to pro­duce a good film, there is only one way, that is, love and truth shall al­ways be given pri­or­ity to.”

Money Is Not the First El­e­ment in Pro­duc­ing a Film

Ren Changzhen owns a small stu­dio of 40 square me­ters in an old- fash­ioned res­i­den­tial build­ing in Zhong­guan­cun Street, Bei­jing. Six years ago, ABi­teof

China Ⅰ was planned and edited here. Ren Changzhen still kept pho­tos which show the

scenes of her team’s work at that time.

Ren Changzhen has mainly en­gaged in the pro­duc­tion of doc­u­men­tary in which she un­der­took the de­sign­ing of the themes and her part­ners were re­spon­si­ble for fundrais­ing and broad­cast. She was par­tic­u­larly strict in se­lect­ing part­ners and money has never been her first choice. Many guys came to Ren Changzhen in the hope of pro­duc­ing an “in­flu­en­tial film,” which she’d re­ject with­out any he­si­ta­tion. She said, “Op­tion for an in­flu­en­tial film gen­er­ally ends up in fail­ure.” Once, a man wanted to co­op­er­ate with her on the pro­duc­tion of a big in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty in the film in­dus­try, and asked her to give a quote. She re­fused upon hear­ing the re­quest, “I am afraid I can­not co­op­er­ate with you. It’s noth­ing about money. It’s about dif­fer­ent life val­ues. What you de­sire is the high­brow type of themes, but that’s not what I want.”

She took lit­tle in­ter­est in the films which are over­whelmed with empty talks and sick­en­ing praises. In­stead, she was fond of those telling good sto­ries. “If I am faced with two sit­u­a­tions in which one is a pro­pa­ganda film about a place and the other is about a hu­man­ity-ori­ented story, I def­i­nitely will choose the lat­ter, even if the for­mer pays much more.” She still re­mem­bered her only ex­pe­ri­ence in mak­ing this type of film which “in­jured” her a lot, for she had to mod­ify it more than a hun­dred times. “That type of film talks big but is empty. I can’t do it.”

“A doc­u­men­tary is not just com­mit­ted to the ex­plo­ration of themes in a cog­ni­tive and

philo­soph­i­cal man­ner, but the ex­plo­ration of the truth in sto­ries that can be un­der­stood by peo­ple,” Ren Changzhen said.

In her mind, doc­u­men­tary in­volves high de­mand for a di­rec­tor who needs to put the real stuff as “truth, kind­ness and beauty” in the pock­ets of a doc­u­men­tary. “Val­ues should be shared among di­rec­tors and the ob­jects be­ing filmed, with mes­sages of truth, kind­ness and beauty cir­cu­lat­ing through­out the film, form­ing a good at­mos­phere and thus trans­mit­ting the val­ues to the au­di­ence.”

Tim­ing, Lo­ca­tion, and Peo­ple All Mat­ter

In films like ABi­te­ofChina,

Me­mory­ofBei­jing and In­her­ited

Crafts­man­ship , Ren Changzhen didn’t fo­cus on the life of celebri­ties, nor the ex­otic sto­ries and nor the con­di­tions of mar­ginal men; in­stead, She fo­cused on the life of or­di­nary men, who have sto­ries and pos­i­tive en­ergy.

“The au­di­ence can eas­ily lo­cate the pro­to­type in their daily life, for the film best re­flects the life of the ma­jor­ity in a high prob­a­bil­ity. The film­ing seems a ‘ short­cut,’ which is, though, not easy to pass. To make it, the di­rec­tor should be ca­pa­ble of dig­ging out the ex­traor­di­nary from the or­di­nary, which re­quires con­cen­tra­tion, ef­fort and tal­ent. Most peo­ple can eas­ily ig­nore the glit­ter­ing facets of or­di­nary men.”

In her view, a good doc­u­men­tary, like a spring breeze, is pleas­ing both to the eye and the heart, and the theme should not be too com­pli­cated. “Mo­ral­ity neigh­bors peo­ple. When the au­di­ence can’t un­der­stand the film, it’s not their prob­lems but the di­rec­tor, who makes it ab­stract and far from the re­al­ity.”

Ren Changzhen is a mod­est, peace­ful and i nde­pen­dent woman. How­ever, she some­times dis­plays her “fierce” and “tough” char­ac­ter. Many guys just wanted to have her as a tit­u­lar pro­ducer and she re­jected, no mat­ter how much money was promised. Her only in­ter­est is to make good doc­u­men­taries, and fame is not her aim. Some peo­ple ad­vised her to set up an of­fi­cial WeChat ac­count, on which she could com­mer­cial­ize her­self. But she main­tains that it costs too much time and en­ergy. “My stu­dio is in a small res­i­den­tial com­mu­nity. I don’t want to pub­li­cize it or be­come a celebrity. I pre­fer to live a nor­mal and free life, away from peo­ple’s at­ten­tion.”

She is not quite so­cial in the doc­u­men­tary in­dus­try. She spends her time wait­ing for a good, suitable film with­out com­plaints. She is al­ways oc­cu­pied in teach­ing stu­dents, help­ing oth­ers and plan­ning for a project. “I have dis­cus­sions with my stu­dents and col­leagues. When they leave, I take care of my­self, re­spon­si­ble for my own life and read my books.”

Does “wait­ing” waste life and tal­ent? She does not think so. “You can’t dis­play your tal­ent every day. It’s lucky to ap­ply it some­times.” She likes read­ing and of­ten reads a few books si­mul­ta­ne­ously. In­stead of read­ing nov­els, she usu­ally reads the­o­ret­i­cal books, par­tic­u­larly the phi­los­o­phy books which best de­picts the philoso­phers’ pas­sion in know­ing the world.

Liv­ing a Peace­ful Life

When she grad­u­ated from col­lege, Ren Changzhen was am­bi­tious. She wanted to remix and dis­rupt the doc­u­men­tary field in China. Now, what she wishes is to run her own “mi­cro­cir­cu­la­tion” and play dif­fer­ent roles in her life, namely, “a daugh­ter of her par­ents,” “a dog owner,” “a di­rec­tor,” “a plan­ner,” and “a teacher.” In her mind, the world is fair and has given her the abil­ity to tell sto­ries about “truth, good­ness and beauty.”

She un­der­stands the power of “de­sire” to­tally. “De­sire al­lures peo­ple. It’s part of hu­man na­ture. But if one is be­ing ma­nip­u­lated by de­sire, he’s doomed to end up ex­hausted.” Ren Changzhen is now not so ag­gres­sive and only hopes to re­main sim­ple in her life and work. “En­joy be­ing a lit­tle bit lonely, live my life, and live a good life.”

( From Chi­naYouth , Is­sue 9, 2018. Trans­la­tion: Lu Qiongyao)

纪录片导演任长箴 Ren Changzhen, doc­u­men­tary di­rec­tor

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