Simplicity Is More Worthy of Pursuit
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