A Mask9 Exclusive Interview with Hu Wei: the Tibetan lamp which is crossing the world


A Mask9 Exclusive Interview with Hu Wei: the Tibetan lamp which is crossing the world

Butter lamp

Young director Hu Wei reached China after a long tour around the world with his short film "Butter lamp". In fact, thanks to this last work, he has already won many prizes (from USA to Taiwan, crossing all the Europe), after being screened in Cannes on 2013. During China Independent Film Festival, Hu Wei has received the Best Short Film Award. Although he is now in some way used to it, he declared that this prize was the most meaningful for him.

Hu Wei gave us the opportunity to talk with us about the main topic of his short film, and where he found the spark for the story, which is located in Tibet, but reflects about the loss of tradition and the disappearing of the roots.

(►click to enlarge pictures

Hu WeiMask9: Butter lamp has already been prized all over the world: UK, Switzerland, Taiwan, USA... without forgetting the starting point in Cannes this year. So, how do you feel after all this achievements all over the world?

Hu Wei: I think it is perfect for what will happen next, for the next film is a very good starting point. Additionally, I am very happy to screen my film all over the world, to have many international spectators. I am very happy and proud.


Mask9: However, this is the first time your film reach China. What do you think about the reaction that the Chinese public had?

Hu Wei: Exactly, today was the first time I have shown my film in China and I am very happy about the public's reaction. There is a very good feeling, from my side. Additionally, what really interested me is that there is a very nice reaction between western and eastern people: even though different, they are the same.


Butter lampMask9: Do you think that this evening's public did understand what you want to communicate them about the Tibetan culture?

Hu Wei: Yes, it could be. In fact, today we live just nearby Tibet, but Tibet is further than we can imagine. In other words, we, Chinese people, we don't really understand very good the Tibetan daily life nowadays.

In this short, I wanted to show something unknown to Chinese, to better understand Tibet and Tibetan people, and particularly those transformations happening currently.


Mask9: One of the characters refuse to change his clothes. What is the meaning of his refusal?

Hu Wei: That is the pure dress, the Tibetan traditional one; but today it does not exist any more. Nowadays, in Tibet, we do not have traditional clothing any more. That guy in my film, his mother died not time long ago: since then, he has everyday dressed that cloth and he does not want to leave it, he does not want to change for a modern clothing. He wears that everyday. That is why he refuses to take the picture with the modern dress.

Hu Wei Hu Wei


Mask9: What do you think about the choice of this guy?

Hu Wei: Actually that was my idea, it is not a documentary content. Because the first time I have been in Tibet, few years ago, I was curious to see the typical Tibetan dress, the traditional costumes: but at the time there, there were very few Tibetans dressed with the traditional clothing. I told to myself "it is weird, that is not the Tibet I have imagined; what is going on here?". So I have asked them: why do not you dress by traditional clothing? And they answered me that there was any traditional holidays, since nowadays the old clothes are used for traditional holidays. There are not many young people who still love the traditional dress. The new generations prefer modern clothes, like us, it is the same. So I thought I could have added this detail, this story, on my film: here is the boy who wears traditional clothes.


Butter lampMask9: You have studied abroad and then come back to film in your home country: is that because you have found right subjects only in China or this is the culture you own better and you want to talk about?

Hu Wei: I am Chinese but observing Tibet from France left a mark on me. As I said, Tibet is closed to China, but we do not know Tibet; I also do not know it, I do not speak any Tibetan and I do not know Tibetan either. When I was in France, I could look at it with distance and I have found something interesting. My film is not a film that speaks Tibetan, it is not a film just for Tibetan people; it is rather a film for us, for Chinese people inside a globalization contest, where everything has changed, everything deeply changes. In China there are also many changes. Tibet is a place where are many conflicts on going, because of the ideology and the convictions, because of modernity and tradition. That is, I made this film with this distance.


Hu WeiMask9: Why did you choose to create this dialogue between photography and cinema?

Hu Wei: Well I started my studies in a Cinema School; then I had a training in Paris and also my studies in Fine Arts, plastic arts field. So I always loved photography. Therefore, yes this is a film where motion images and still frames are communicating.

I want to tell you the original idea: some years ago I have seen this picture called "Warsaw 1946" by Michael Nash. It touched me a lot. It is five years I have seen it during the exposition "Paris photos". A black and white picture where the photographer shoots an old lady in front a fake background (there are a villa, some trees, it is very nice); but behind it, there is the degradation of Warsaw after the Second World War. That picture touched me a lot because it is actually a common habit in China, it is a popular costume. Though I did not know it existed something similar in Europe; and when I saw this picture I found it exactly was what I was looking for: there is some common point between Europe and China. From here the spark to do this film.


Hu WeiMask9: Do you think that any other country would host this story, or it is just Tibet that can fit with your idea?

Hu Wei: For example, we can do this movie in Russia, in northern Russia, with other ethnic groups: well, it is possible. But I preferred the Tibet because I have been there few times, I have loved it and I felt there is a big transformation in that place. For me, it is like a good friend who you got to know long time ago. My view is that there are true Tibetans around yet, but for example, less nomadics. Tibetan nomadism, nowadays, little by little, is disappearing. So I needed to do something for them.


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