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.
“I’ve discovered early that I’m not the person who follows the crowd”, shared Han Xia from TEDxSuzhou stage. The statement doesn’t seem like bravado or a part of a constructed persona for public-facing events— Han Xia’s reel attests to that. Her dreamy style, which in a sense poeticizes the mundane is recognizable in commercial films, documentaries, and music videos alike. SHP+ had a chance to talk to the Beijing-based writer/director about her work and experiences as a female director in China.
DJI – Day Dream 《白日梦》
PRODUCTION 制作公司：你好竹子（NIHAO ZHUZI）
When she was younger, Han Xia was intimidated by branded content, and it didn’t feel like something she wanted to do. For the graduate of Central Academy of Drama, writing scripts, shooting documentaries and MVs was a more familiar area where she applied her filmmaking skills. Now, guarding the identity of an independent filmmaker, Han Xia’s gradually became more comfortable with commercial filmmaking, having shot videos for Estée Lauder, Dior, Alexander McQueen, DJI and L’Oreal to name a few. “Sometimes the brand sends a very short brief, maybe just one paragraph— the color of lipstick, or the benefits of foundation. I’ll spend a day to read it through, stare at it, trying to guess, to get the essence what the brief is really about. And then I add my story and creative ideas to it”, – Han Xia shares. In most projects she eagerly accepts, there’s this big open window for creativity, allowing Han Xia to promote her scripts to the client and then shoot it. Han Xia says that for example, for Day Dream (DJI) “the brief was something like “to see things differently”. It took me quite a while to put my ideas together for this one, we changed the script several times. I thought about the most “normal period of time”, when we lose focus— 4-5 pm. What if we could flee from the office at that hour, do something differently, and see what others were doing”.
These recurring characteristics of Han Xia’s works— explorations about the time, beautiful people wandering the streets, travel, a bit of nostalgic gaze, and absence of a clear story might’ve been repetitive, if not for the inner monologues of the characters and unexpected cinematic twists. As a multitasker assuming different roles, for each project Han Xia manages to tell a slightly familiar, but different story. She’s also keen on trying new directions, like the recent collaboration with Touching Studio for Bilibili spot, which is a complete departure from her style. “It was a very different but fun experience for me. Probably not my direction in the future, but I wouldn’t say no to opportunities like that”, Han Xia notes.
PRODUCTION 制作公司：TOUCHING STUDIO
In response to our question wether it’s difficult to be a female director in China, Han Xia says that according to her experience, the situation improved in the recent 3 years or so. She’s seen a lot of women directors, producers, writers getting their shine in different projects. At the same time, when a female director is working on bigger projects like phone, or car commercials, she’ll be challenged a lot, and for other projects often asked to put a lot of “female perspective” into the campaign, the story, or film. Han Xia doesn’t really agree with that perception that women can’t create universal stories. “Of course, we’re women, but it’s not very different from being a guy director. We may have a different perspective, but it doesn’t mean we’re totally different creatures”, she says.
The case of not many women directors in China is not so much the question of education. Having studied filmmaking in China and Canada, Han Xia admits that it was pleasantly surprising to see a considerable number of girls enrolled in cinematography and lighting studies abroad. In her writing/directing department both in China and Canada schools, almost half of students were women. Regrettably, among women half of Han Xia’s classmates in China, she estimates to probably be the only one still working as a director.
In Han Xia’s opinion, initiatives to include women directors in every pitch sound like a direct transplant from the West. Discussing the topic of quota-like initiatives to promote and support women directors, Han Xia’s answers, like the issue itself, are layered. On one hand, she believes at this point in China there’s no foundation to push the inclusion of women as a rule. A lot of agencies and clients don’t have a concept of hiring a woman director. It is still ok for a client to say “we don’t want a female director”. On the other hand, perhaps, a rule like that is necessary for China, but seeing women assuming previously male-only roles, as well as speaking up about discriminating experiences are also important ways to push the change, however slow it may seem. Han Xia admits, she’s quite vocal on these issues, and is very lucky to have platforms to do so— her Weibo account, but also a podcast Sneeze (喷嚏）which she co-hosts with her friend, also a woman director Zhu Zi (竹子).
在韩夏看来，让女性导演参与到每个环节中的声音，听起来就像是直接从西方舶来的概念。在讨论有关鼓励和支持女性导演的配额式举措的话题时，韩夏的回答就像这个问题本身一样，是分层的。一方面，她认为目前在中国还没有为女性平权出台规定或政策的基础。很多机构和客户都没有聘请女导演的想法。客户说“我们不想要女导演”还不算什么不妥当的言辞。另一方面，或许这样的规定对中国来说是必要的，看到女性扮演以前只有男性能扮演的角色，以及公开谈论歧视的经历，也是推动变革的重要方式，不管这看起来有多么地缓慢。韩夏坦言，她乐于积极地为这些问题发声，也很幸运有可以发声的平台 —— 她的微博账号，同时也是她的播客‘喷嚏’，在这里她与同为导演的好友竹子一起担任主持人。
“Another thing is that people often give this definition to women on set “she’s very very bossy” as something negative. But in my opinion, it’s a good thing: we should be bossy. Because we earned the chance to be bossy. If you’re described as bossy— usually it means you’re a little more straightforward, or strong-opinionated. But same to a guy director, people usually just say he’s sharp, determined. I think we should give the word “bossy” a new definition — being strong, powerful, and know what you’re doing”, Han Xia adds.
“还有一件事，人们经常在片场给女性下这样的定义：‘她非常非常地强势’，这被认为是一种消极的品质。但在我看来，这是一种优良的品格: 我们应该强势。因为我们赢得了发号施令的机会。如果你被形容为强势，这通常意味着你比较直接，或者有些固执己见。但是对于一个男导演来说，人们通常只会说他很犀利，很坚定。我认为我们应该给‘强势’这个词一个新的定义: 强大、有力量、知道自己在做什么”， 韩夏补充到。
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PRODUCTION 制作公司：你好竹子（NIHAO ZHUZI）
As to her future plans, the director shares that she won’t give up commercials, but hopes to have the opportunity to focus more on her own projects, dive deeper into the storytelling. Naming Wong Karwai on one end of her spectrum of inspiration, and Lynne Ramsay, Andrea Arnold, and Amber Grace Johnson on the other, Han Xia curiously also admits she actually really enjoys comedy elements. She calls it “sad comedy”, and maybe after the release of the project she’s working on now, this genre will be a thing. “A lot of filmmakers dream to make feature films, or never make commercials”, Han Xia laughs. She concludes: “It’s not like that for me. Of course, I want to make a feature film, and I have scripts I’ve been working on and will continue working on. But for us, the younger generation we should be open-minded to different opportunities. Like director Xin Shuang, who shot the recent BMW commercial. He also directed very popular online series 《隐秘的角落》( The Bad Kids). In the future, I think there won’t be a clear line between who makes films and who makes commercials, the genres blur, and what matters is people making interesting work”.
至于未来的计划，这位导演表示，她不会放弃广告，但希望有机会更多地专注于自己的项目，更深入地去讲故事。韩夏的灵感来源有王家卫、Lynne Ramsay, Andrea Arnold和 Amber Grace Johnson，让她感到奇怪的是，她承认自己也很喜欢喜剧元素。她管这叫“悲伤的喜剧”，或许她目前正在进行的项目上映后，这种风格会成为一种新流派。“很多电影制作人的梦想是拍故事片，或者从不拍商业广告“，韩夏笑着说。她总结道：“对我来说不是这样的。当然，我想拍一部故事片，我已经有着手撰写的剧本了，也会继续写下去。但对我们来说，年轻一代应该对不同的机会持开放态度。比如最近拍摄了宝马广告的导演辛爽。他同时还是去年大火的网剧《隐秘的角落》的导演。在未来，我认为广告人与电影人之间不会再有什么清晰的分界线，这一艺术形式会变得模糊，比起这些，有人去创作有趣的作品才是最重要的”。
If you are a female commercial director/cinematographer, or you know someone who’s suitable for the series. Feel free to share with us the name.