I Han Phap: Documentary is the carrier of time and culture
By Monn Ja
The 31-year-old I Han Phap (Shan ethnic) was has been living and working in Monghan Town, Jinghong City, Xishuangbanna. He went to work in factories in Guangxi and Zhejiang in his early ages. After returning to his hometown, I Han fa often tries to record his work and life with the camera.
The phenomenon of cross-border marriage has always existed extensively in many border villages in Xishuangbanna. The wife of I Han Phap’s cousin, Yuhan, is a girl from Laos. For I Han fa, Yuhan is a relative who lives a similar life with the villagers, but also seems to be somewhat different.
"Yuhan and my cousin have always been living in Manyanghan Village, Menghan Town, Jinghong City after their marriage. In 2018, her special Lao nationality drew my curiosity, and I wanted to use the camera to explore the inner thoughts of her and to record her living conditions." I Han fa said.
After fully communicating with Yuhan and her family, I Han Phap obtained their permission and was able to start his shooting and interview.
During the shooting, I Han Phap tried to record Yuhan’s daily life, religious belief and participated in activities through a combination of participatory observation and in-depth interviews. A series of dialogues in the film reflect Yuhan’s current plight and future expectations as a “foreign daughter-in-law.” This makes the film not only a personal life history but also a documentary that attempts to reflect the reality of cross-border marriages in Xishuangbanna. The marriage and living conditions of foreign women in cross-border marriages in China are the subjects of I Han Phap’s concern. At the same time, he reflects on the policies for cross-border marriages, and what influences and the appeals these policies have brought to the communities and families.
Q: How did you become acquainted with documentaries? Why are you interested in it?
A: I am working in the cultural station in the town, and I often come into contact with documentaries about different intangible cultural heritage projects in my work and life. I found that documentaries record real events, using real people and real events as the objects of the performance, and they are a carrier of time and culture. With the changes of the times, the cultures of different ethnic groups have also been changing, and some traditional cultures are gradually disappearing. While looking back, we would find that there were so many things meaningful and worth preserving in the past. They cannot come back again, which I feel sorry about.
Since I acquainted with the documentary, I have been very interested in it. Now, I have begun to record the interesting people and things around me, as well as meaningful cultures. I hope they can be remembered in the long history.
Q: How do you think a good documentary should be like? Please give me some examples of the documentaries you like personally.
A: It’s not been long since I started to learn documentary, so I still have a lot to learn. I think a good documentary should record the event or activity with a sense of time, historical significance, or inspiring and promoting meaning for society.
Q: How did you get to participate in the "Lancang-Mekong Vision" project?
A: I participated in the project from the recommendation of a scholar.
Q: During this project, why did you choose to shoot the subject "Lao Wife"? How did this shooting process affect you?
A: I chose to shoot Wife from Laos because the purpose of this project is to promote the protection and development of local cultural diversity in the Mekong Basin. I think that they are from the same ethnic group as us though we come from two different countries. I'm very curious about what cultural sparks it will create when these two people live and work together. I also hope to know what treatment/policy they will get after they get married in China.
This shooting was the first time I participated in a professional documentary shooting project. The shooting process inspired me a lot. I learned various technical terms and shooting methods of documentary making, and I got to understand more about the documentary shooting.
Q: Did you encounter any thorny problems while participating in the project? How did you solve it in the end?
A: One difficult problem for me is my short of shooting and post-editing techniques. Then Mr. Zhang Hai from Yunnan University came to the shooting site and gave me some on-site shooting guidance. In the workshop of the “Lancang-Mekong Vision” project, I also got to edit the film with the guidance of Dr. Zhang Hai and Mr. Xie Wenshuai.
Q: So far, what have you gained from participating in this project?
A: I have learned so much while participating in this project. First, the great improvement of my shooting technology. For a beginner like me, I didn't know how to make a good documentary, or how to start the first step when I had just started shooting. It was through the guidance of Mr. Zhang Hai that I took the first step. In the process of shooting, I didn’t know how to use the lens, choose the angle, and the picture composition at all. It was not until Mr. Zhang came to the shooting site to conduct the workshop did I get to learn what is the panorama, medium shot, close shot, close-up, and how to compose a picture, etc.
The second is the improvement of my post-editing technique. This is the first time I use Premier editing software, so I am not good at using it. After a whole-afternoon explanation and practicing operation by Mr. Zhang Hai, I started to have the idea of editing and got a preliminary understanding of Premier software. Then I started the rough cut of the film. In my later editing, Dr. Zhang Hai and Mr. Xie Wenshuai taught me how to use the software as well as how to take better shots. What’s more, they also taught me to keep the editing thinking during the shooting, etc.
Third, this process has promoted my understanding of documentaries. It also gave me the chance to know different filmmakers in the other Mekong Basin countries (Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar). I got to learn about their experience in documentary making and production.
Fourth, through the filming of Wife from Laos, I got to learn more about the difficulties of cross-border marriage and family around me, as well as their expectations of life.