SHP+ continues on the issue of minor representation of female filmmakers in China. Women’s Perspectives is a series of articles where we interview women filmmakers to give exposure to their name and their work, but also talk about their dreams, challenges and realities of being a woman in the industry.
For some directors, a collaboration with NOWNESS adds a universally-recognized coolness factor to their reel. In the market where fast cuts of fashionable, young, dynamic shots are becoming the advertising standard for wide spectrum of brands, NOWNESS brings a fresh artisitic approach and their in-house directors are now hot commodity. After a few minutes talking with one of such directors, it’s clear there’s more than meets the eye with Zhao Dan.
Director-editor ZhaoDan 导演兼剪辑 赵丹
On many of her films Zhao Dan multitasks as a director and editor. Not surprisingly, as before having moved behind the camera in 2017, she’s started her career as an editor. At the time, freshly graduated from filmmaking department of East China Normal University, Zhao Dan’s ambition was to direct a feature film. Ten years ago, however, the movie space was even more difficult to penetrate compare to today. So, she applied for an editor assistant position in a post-house and entered a period of her career where she literally was living in the office at times. Yet with all the work, not a single film from that period in which she expressed herself.
Around seven years ago, when Chinese publishing giant Modern Media Group established iFashion, Zhao Dan left the post house taking the chance for a clean break from traditional advertising into the nascent world of fashion films. This way, she witnessed how in the early days, magazine editors started to shape a new genre of fashion films, solely relying on their aesthetics and sense of what’s visually interesting. With a lot of space for creativity, Zhao Dan’s job was to edit all this strong visual material into short films. But more importantly, short films “with meaning”. Then somewhere between New Media Group buying Nowness Global followed by iFashion team transferring to NOWNESS China, and with big encouragement of editor-in-chief, Zhao Dan finally started to direct some of her own films.
The first of her work that she likes, despite describing it as “raw”, is a short film, featuring Japanese dancer Bambi Naka, made for the NOWNESS series “Power and Performance”. Zhao Dan shares, that unlike editorials with dancers, she wanted to get a bit more than just a pretty picture. The voice over comes from the interview she did with Bambi, trying to immerse herself into the dancer’s mind. “I can’t really dance, I’m not a well-coordinated person, but I’m sensitive to music and movement. I just express it not through my own body, but through my films with dancers. When I’m directing, I don’t think about how the dancer should be, according to my vision. I hope to catch on camera what’s special about the person, and let it guide the shot”. Another work she considers representative, is the highly conceptual “Acting Class” series for acting school The Dome Studio established by celebrity director Chen Guofu, actors Zhou Xun, and Chen Kun. Zhao Dan comments: “I wanted to show the relationship between the actors themselves and with their audience, from a different perspective. I think the film with Bambi helped me find my directing style. And this series of work is a continuation of that exploration, that’s why both are very important to me”.
在自己的作品中，第一部赵丹喜欢的短片，由日本舞者Bambi Naka主演，是一部为NOWNESS打造的系列：《表演力》(Power and Performance)。赵丹分享道，她不想拍出一部只呈现跳舞画面的editorial，她想要的不仅仅是漂亮的画面。这里的VO源于她在采访Bambi时的素材，她试图沉浸在这位舞蹈家的思想中。“我自己不太会跳舞，我自己本人是肢体不太协调的一个人。我觉得我对身体和音乐是有感受力的，只是我的表达不是通过我自己的身体，而是通过我的片子。当我拍一个人的时候，我觉得要把他本人的特点拍出来，而不是我想象中我想拍一个什么样的舞蹈。” 她认为另一件具有代表性的作品是由著名导演陈国富、演员周迅和陈坤创立的表演学校山下学堂的颇具概念性的“表演课”系列短片。赵丹评论道: “我想从一个不同的角度去展现演员本身与观众之间的关系。我认为Bambi影片帮助我找到自己的导演风格。而这一系列的工作是探索的延续，这就是为什么这两部影片对我来说都非常重要。”
Bambi Naka 感官世界
Zhao Dan became and grew as a director in NOWNESS, an environment where creative freedom is valued and nourished. Liberation of creative nature is at core of this type of editorial platforms, while in traditional advertising directors might have bigger budgets, but their creative freedom is often restrained or compromised. Nevertheless, Zhao Dan doesn’t seem to worry. She has reasons to firmly believe that there is a place for her in the traditional advertising scene. She believes, there’s a new wave of local brands like Neiwai, or even financially-successful no-names, that approach advertising, valuing creative freedom. She even predicts, in the near future, the percentage of companies like this will rise up to 30%. In Zhao Dan’s mind, the future is all about diversity, where traditional and “individuality-oriented” advertising can coexist.
Women on film sets across the country certainly contribute to this “all-embracing” version of the future. When we ask about her experience being a female filmmaker in China, Zhao Dan says she is rather fortunate. “I’ve started directing in fashion, where women are not a vulnerable group. Plus, I feel in the industry in Shanghai, gender discrimination is not as strong, as elsewhere in China”, says Zhao Dan. Of course, she has experienced the lack of respect on sets, but Zhao Dan associates the gender prejudice with generational gap more than with anything else. In her experience, only an older, conservative filmmaker can wonder, why women choose to be directors, when the best in profession globally are still men. To this, she answers, that women only started getting opportunities. Just wait and you’ll see what they are capable of.
山下学堂 Zhou Xun 周迅
Like many new generation female filmmakers, Zhao Dan wants to move past gender, and be seen as a neutral director. Perhaps, her idealistic views are shaped by the bubble of fashion environment. Perhaps the insatiable desire of brands to keep it cool and appeal to the young Chinese audience in turn also gives the new generation of filmmakers the power to transform the industry. Zhao Dan concludes: “I don’t like shooting “sweet, soft, gentle” stuff, which a lot of people still think is by default the style of any female director. I hope my work have a feeling, an expressed temperament, some power to it. For me, it’s not an external, expressive power some associate with fast cuts and dynamism. It’s the power of expression from within. I hope people won’t judge if a film has been shot by a man or woman, and don’t judge a director’s range just by looking at their previous work. I hope people look past the superficial, and see every director’s core, potential”.