Sam Voutas Interview

By , 2011年 6月 24日

Sex shops and sketchy hairdressers are so ubiquitous in Beijing that one begins to mentally filter them out before too long. Australian filmmaker Sam Voutas, however, mined comic inspiration in Beijing’s sprawling back-alley red light districts, coming out with Red Light Revolution: “China’s First Sex Shop Comedy.”

RLR has screened widely both within China (Beijing, Wuhan, Jinan) and internationally at film festivals. Your next opportunity to see it comes on Wednesday, July 29th at D-22 (the club was one of the shooting locations of the film: check the still below).

I asked Sam a few questions about the challenges of making independent film in China and RLR’s potentially taboo subject matter.

Scene from Red Light Revolution shot @ D-22

pangbianr: Making independent film is difficult in China, given state censorship and the lack of a pre-existing infrastructure for indie productions that exists in other parts of the world. Can you talk a bit about the process of making Red Light Revolution and offer some insights that may help future independent Chinese filmmakers?

Sam Voutas: I think the key questions any filmmaker should ask themselves is who is my audience, and how do I get my film to that audience? For “Red Light Revolution”, this was particularly tricky due to the subject matter. So that gave the film its appeal but also put it in a tricky place. Melanie Ansley, who produced it, went through her entire phone book of contacts seeing whether anyone would take it on under their umbrella. But that’s the neat thing about indie films, they force filmmakers and audiences to take risks. Whereas the primary goal for mainstream cinema is to play the game safe so as to ensure box office returns, indie film pushes the envelope more. Even just going to watch a movie in a place like D-22, instead of in a megaplex, pushes conventions of how we usually digest our films.

pbr: The film was written and directed by an Australian and has screened in festival contexts abroad, with only a few small-scale screenings in China. In what ways is Red Light Revolution a “Chinese” film and in what ways is it a “foreign” film?

SV: I reckon in a hundred years if a film buff of early 21st Century films went to a library and looked for “Red Light Revolution”, it wouldn’t be in the Australian section of the shelves. Our film’s in the Chinese language, it’s shot in China, the actors and most of the crew are Chinese. That said, I do think the film owes a lot to the mythology of the traditional Aussie battler, the bloke who has to fight against the odds to set things right, which is an enormous part of story-telling culture back home. Regarding showing the film here in China, I think that while on the surface the screenings seem small, we’ve packed out large venues as well as small ones. Even when we don’t pack out but we still get a solid crowd who spread the word. Having taken the film to cities like Jinan and Wuhan, this begins to add up. I’ve looked at the audience numbers of certain Australian films playing at cinemas back home, and have been surprised that there’s not that much of a gap between them and us.

pbr: RLR touches on modern ideas of sexuality that are not pervasively discussed in mainstream Chinese society. How have the reactions to domestic screenings been so far?

SV: So far we’re getting overwhelmingly positive responses. My favourite post on our Douban page was from an audience member who said it was so funny they nearly pissed their pants. For comedy, it doesn’t get much better than that. In terms of the sex aspect, some nights we get a more analytical audience, others an audience that just wants to relax and have a good time. The university crowd in particular seems to be discussing the film a lot online.

pbr: Do you think the ability to make and screen a film like RLR speaks to China becoming a more culturally open place, or have you encountered negative reactions that would make you think twice about undertaking such a potentially sensitive project in the future?

SV: I see film as art basically. With mobile phones now any one can make a film as easily as drawing a sketch in a notepad. So I think the technology is allowing for people from all across the country to share interests, develop skills, in a way that was never possible before. Overall there’s been little negativity as I think the film has a pretty upbeat positive message, or at least I hope so. But I remember Alfred Jarry’s playwriting career was helped heaps by a negative audience, so we’ll see.

pbr: For those in Beijing and elsewhere, are there any plans to regularly screen or distribute RLR in China?

SV: Absolutely, just follow us on Facebook [or douban] for all the latest. We’ve been cooking up a few things. This isn’t the last you’ve heard of Shunzi and his shop, and we’re always keen to hear other people’s ideas on how we can get the film out there.

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