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 someone with a brief career in filmmaking, Chinese director 戴维Veda has already reached a significant milestone: she has directed and filmed over one hundred women. But to her, it’s not about quantity; it’s about quality. Whatever topic her work entails, it’s essential to have depth in its investigation and honesty in its portrayal.
“There are a lot of women commercials coming out now. Frankly, I’m a little tired of this,” says Veda. “I think it’s good that gender-positive advertising is booming. But they may need to dive deeper into what diversity really means.” For instance, she liked the recent Proya x China Women’s Daily’s commercial “Gender Is Not a Limit, Prejudice Is” , which brings a lot of perspective.
Veda was one of the many women in her filmmaking class in Shanghai Film Academy, Shanghai University. In fact, more women surrounded her than men in her university years. Still, she would occasionally question her aptitude for the task precisely for being a woman. “I thought I wouldn’t be able to handle all the hard work that filmmaking requires, such as the long hours, for example. I also knew that there were not a lot of women directors out there,” she says.
Her genuine passion is for feature films, specifically sci-fi. “A lot of my friends tell me, ‘Veda, you’re like a man,” she laughs at their stereotypical perception. “They say that because of my interests—I prefer to talk about my sci-fi movies and invigorative animation than girlish things.”
Veda’s graduate project was the feature-length film With You Stranger (和陌生的你每一天) that reflects upon our relationship with technology—already from a female perspective. Within the genre, Veda’s style revolves more towards futuristic soulful dramas than hardcore space travel, “still, everyone wants to be [Christopher] Nolan,” she jokes.
As her practice matured, Veda learned to perceive the advantages of being a woman, notably the nuances of having a female gaze. “After I graduated, I found that being a woman is actually a gift—you see the world differently, from distinct angles.”
For many recent film school graduates, specializing in different ways of conveying visual stories through social media leads to more immediate work opportunities. That’s what Veda did when she graduated in 2017. At that time there was a lot of resistance to short video platforms, which she believed could compromise the integrity of the narrative and make viewers lose patience with longer works. “For those of us who graduated at the time, short videos seemed like the ‘enemy. But you know what they say, ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer,‘” she laughs. So having finished working as assistant director for the film Wild Grass, Veda joined a social media company in order to know and understand all about it.
Among other projects, she worked on the three-day record of the editor-in-chief and CEO of Marie Claire China, Alex Sun. A bit later, the film caught the eye of the video editor Yuki at homegrown lingerie brand NEIWAI, where she was invited next to work on a series of expository documentaries.
“They said they wanted to build a team to work on a project with a ‘human touch’, Veda recalls. “They wanted to tell stories about women, their lifestyle, and their thoughts.”
At NEIWAI, Veda wore several hats, acting as creative, director, and editor. The brand’s advertising strategy relies on self-expression with the goal of female liberation and empowerment. During her time there, she made several films that challenge the rigorous beauty and behavioral standards expected from Chinese women. She touched on topics like breast sizes, body positivity, and inner strength. The difference from other similar campaigns is that the message comes straight from women’s hearts.
“It’s not just about freckles, having an afro, or being fat. There’s more to it. For the NEIWAI Touch series, we interviewed each woman two or three times. We got to know them and their stories very well,” Veda says. She aimed to bring awareness to these women’s lives, not forcibly but pleasantly. Her NEIWAI films are minimal and delicate. They center on the genuine emotions of the women they portray, through their own words, or else through their gestures and marks—a tattoo, a scar, a smile. They can be funny, refreshing, but also heartbreaking at times.
“When it comes to diversity, you don’t need to be them; you just need to understand them. Sometimes it’s not that you hate something, it’s just that you lack the knowledge, understanding and communication to notice. So we dig out the emotions and stories that are perhaps too small or too common to be noticed, and let people understand and feel all these things. It’s like sharing a book,” she says.
Veda left NEIWAI after the NEIWAI Touch project，but she continues on the quest to portray women with integrity and empathy, now as a freelancer. Her latest commercial is for Dove, a pioneer in the beauty sector for boosting a woman’s confidence through marketing campaigns.
Still, Veda doesn’t accept all requests for films with the goal of women’s empowerment. She only takes them when she feels confident that the brand’s message is genuine. Such authenticity has become her hallmark. She presents women from a distinctly female gaze, which makes her work refreshing, distinct from conventional advertising.
As for the road ahead, Veda doesn’t have major plans. She “goes with the flow and enjoys the ride.” But there’s one more thing she wants to accomplish. “Since I shot over one hundred women in one year, I also want to shoot over one hundred men. That way, I can know both,” she laughs.
If you are a female commercial director/cinematographer/production designer/ editor, or you know someone who’s suitable for the series. Feel free to share with us the name.