Today’s Nicely Made in China story is different. We’ve interviewed Elisa Haberer, a photographer and filmmaker born in Seoul and brought up in Chalon-sur-Saône (France) – the cradle of photography. (Full disclosure – Elisa is a friend.) She has just released her first documentary film called “My lucky bird” [follow the link and do a search with Lucky Bird to watch the film]. The subject of “My lucky bird” appealed to us and we hope that you will find it interesting too: for a year Elisa followed 3 young Chinese women – all aged 23 – and filmed them in their daily lives as they embarked on major changes. “My lucky bird” illustrates with a humane eye, the challenges facing China’s young women today. (Elisa was based in Beijing from 2004 to 2011.)
Elisa, why did you start this project?
My goal was to show daily life in China while avoiding the now familiar story of extremes (double-digit growth, abject poverty, incredible wealth, the economic miracle). This is already well documented in the media, so I turned my camera toward the emerging middle-class.
What is the film about?
For a year I followed 3 young women living in Beijing who were at a turning point in their lives, by choice or forced into it. Wang Meng was looking for a job which would change her life. Tang Qi – from a small town near Wuhan in Hubei – dreamed of living in Beijing. Lei Shuang Mei, the third child in a family of 5, was about to move and study in Leicester in the UK. The 3 women have grown up in a China dominated by the one-child-policy, a new consumer-led society, and possibly most significant of all, for the 1st time in China, a generation which can express itself. If there’s an intense social pressure on these women, there’s also a space full of possibilities, something that their parents never experienced.
What is a « lucky bird »?
At the beginning of the film Lei Shuang Mei explains that in China, there is a bird which is called Lucky Bird. It’s known to bring luck. When, like these women, you reach a turning point in your life, the « luck » factor becomes more important.
How did you find those 3 women?
I did not want to work with people I already knew, so I placed personal ads via the internet. I received about 40 replies and the selection process (face-to-face interviews in the main) took 4 months. Listening to these girls I recognised their strong urge to record what they were going through.
Why 3 women and why not a mix of men and women?
I specifically wanted to work with women because in Asia the relationship between the sexes requires more codes than in the West and as a woman I thought it’d be easier to work with women.
How did the shooting go?
The filming was spread over a period of 12 months. It was made possible because the 3 characters really wanted to be filmed. They were very accepting of the camera following them around as I had to spend a lot of time with them. The biggest challenge was in the editing room – where I worked with the editor Alexandra Willot. Our task was to intertwine the 3 profiles and stay close to the human side of the story in order to avoid remaining in a descriptive mode.
What did you learn from undertaking this work?
In my time in China, I’ve had many interesting situations but what was special about this is that it allowed me to go deep inside Chinese society. Making this film made me realize that fundamentally the problems facing these young women are the same as those facing young people in the west: how to exist as a individual and how to find a place in society – a constant dialogue between what I want and what I can. In modern China it’s common to flaunt your wealth but talking about your inner doubts remains new.
The film, in Mandarin with French subtitles, was produced by Upside Télévision and the channel Public Sénat.
Music by Cell’Opera Quartet (Chaconne by J-S Bach)
Length of the film: 52 mn.
Already broadcast once, it will be screened 5 more times on Channel 13 Public Senat: on Saturday 9th of March at 10 pm, Sunday 10th at 6 pm, Monday 11th at 5.15 pm, Saturday 16th at 3.15 pm and Sunday 17th at 9 am.
To watch Elisa Haberer’s film trailer click here. (My lucky bird – 52 mn / In Mandarin with French subtitles)