Interview with director Chuyao He on her short film ‘Before Christmas’.
A painfully truthful short drama, Chuyao He delicately captures the plight of working class Asians from the countryside left behind by an
ever-advancing society. The film follows the struggle of a father and son as they adapt to working under ruthless conditions at a Christmas decoration workshop located in an unfamiliar big city.
‘Before Christmas’ screens at the Edinburgh Printmakers on May 11th.
Let’s begin with the topic. How did you find this topic?
The original idea was from some photographs by a Chinese photojournalist. He went to several Christmas decoration factories in China and photographed some images of the workers there. I found those interesting images online and saw the potential of creating a script based on that. And then I contacted the photographer for the copyright. That was how everything began.
So what are the differences between the movie Before Christmas and the photograph Chinese Christmas Factory?
Because of the photograph, this particular job and industry were exposed. In this case, it’s very much like a discovery. Without the photograph, no one would know this type of job exists. And based on the photograph, the story and characters were built in the movie for a deeper discussion on the issue.
And was it difficult to find the factory? Were those workers at the back real workers or background actors?
The location was the most challenging part in the pre-production. We went to more than ten Christmas decoration factories and no one offered us the permission to shoot in those places. The owners were afraid that we were from the government and we would expose the poor working conditions there. Eventually, we found the location a day before the shooting. Mostly because the factory owner was a friend of our production manager.
In terms of the workers at the back, they were actual workers who were taking their shifts during our shooting. We were allowed to use the location as long as we did not interfere with the workers. That’s the reason why they were doing the stockings so natural in the scene. It was their daily routine. I think it’s a blessing to the film because they brought the movie to another level of realism and they also became characters in the story.
So is the government aware of this industry? How do the government relate to the factories?
Yes, they are. But most of the time the government turns a blind eye to the issues in the industry, so the workers are victimized by that.
But is it normal for young adults or even underage kids to work in the factory? How do they feel about that?
It’s an open secret in Chinese society. I believe this issue can be found in every country. I remember after the screening in a New Jersey film festival, a lady approached me and told me that the movie reminded her the experience of being a black child labor during the 60s. And that was the reason why I made the film. I believe the power of cinema can raise the public awareness on the issues of working-class hard labor, especially on child labor. Those teenagers who work in factories may have their dreams, but because of their backgrounds, they really don’t have any other option than factory work.
Any other messages you would like to share with the audiences?
Although the film was set in China, I believe the topic is universal. The film has a voice and speaks a universal language, which is cinema. I hope the film can resonate with the audiences and offer them a new perspective. Sometimes, maybe we should not take things for granted because they may be made with tears and blood.