AIFF caught up with talented filmmaker Xiong Wei in China to discuss the poignant WWII drama, The Dawning.
AIFF – What motivated you to tell this story?
Xiong – 我在多年前的一次采访中认识了电影的原型人物——夏家骏老先生，这样一位吃百家饭长大的战争遗孤，从湖南偏僻山沟外出求学，一步步奋斗，为国为民，终成大家，一生乐观自信，对生活充满希望。他的故事和精神让我有了表达和倾诉的欲望。而且老先生已经80多岁了，他还想着能够为国家为社会多做点事情。那我们不应该为这个经历困难的老人有所行动吗？因此，我想帮他圆一个梦，他以前跟我讲过，他有一个金色的童年，可能只有一些片刻记忆，但我想帮他补上这些记忆碎片。此外，我父亲是一位参加过越战的老兵，当年他们为国家战功立业，牺牲了很多的青春，甚至牺牺牲了很多生命。他们曾经很苦难，他们也即将离开，而拍摄《云上日出》这部影片，便是我想送给所有老兵们的一份礼物。
I met the character we used to design the film during an interview many years ago - Mr. Xia Jiajun, who was a war orphan and born in a remote and mountainous place in Hunan, China, but went to the city for education. Step by step, he became a great man for China. He is optimistic, confident and full of hope for life. His story and spirit inspired me to let his story to be heard. What's more, he is over 80 years old, but still always thinks that he can do more for the country and for the society. I think we should do something for this honorable old man who suffered in life. I want to help him to achieve a dream. He told me before that he has a golden childhood but doesn't remember everything, so I want to help him fill these memories. In addition, my father was a veteran who made a great contribution in the Vietnamese War. Many men like my father sacrificed their youth and even lives. They had a very hard life, and soon they will leave us, so this movie is dedicated to them.
AIFF - What were some of the challenges working with a cast made up largely of children?
Xiong – 跟孩子一起拍戏可以说是痛并快乐着。说痛，一是因为孩子喜爱打闹的天性，导致片场十分不好管理。更主要的是，我们一直在探讨如何让孩子们理解战争，理解那个年代。最后我们决定让所有小演员集体提前20天进组培训，从了解常德细菌战的历史、观看相关战争片，到“围读”剧本、分析人物，一系列深入角色生活的体验，帮助他们建立表演信念感。如果说找到好演员是角色的'形'，那么与演员一同深入生活、探讨角色的过程，是角色'魂'的建立。 但相比痛，快乐还是占主要的，因为孩子们总会给我惊喜，有很多细节不是他们演出来的，而是孩子的天然表达。
It is bitter-and-sweet to make movies with so many children. It is hard to manage children in the studio because children love to play. We tried our best to make children understand about war and that era. So, we decided to let all the children actors collectively be trained for 20 days in advance, including the history of Changde's germ war, watching related war films, reading scripts together, analyzing characters, and a series of in-depth role life experiences to help them build confidence to act their roles. It is important to find good actors for the roles but also to help the actors find their souls through experiencing and discussing their characters is key. Most of time we had fun together because children always surprise me, they have natural talents to act like children, rather than performing.
AIFF – How did you prepare to shoot in this location, how did you work with your cinematographer?
Xiong – 其实影片还是拍摄了一些战争场面，但后期剪辑时都删去了。之所以不愿意用浓烈、惨烈的手法描述战争，主要还是从当下青少年或者孩子的立场去思考。影片第一受众很有可能就是孩子，倘若把特别惨烈的特别灰暗的画面传递出去，有可能会让他们产生恐惧感。因此，我和摄影指导都希望多采用长镜头的拍摄手法，让画面尽可能显得平静、美好，这样反而更能与战争的残酷形成鲜明反差。当看到孩子们在河边吹口琴，一起做南瓜饼，拥抱美好的秋收，却明知等待着他们是一个噩梦般的结局，观众的心就会不由疼得抽搐起来。
In fact, we did shoot some war scenes, but we decided to cut the war scene out during editing because I don't want to use camera to show too much cruelty about war, mainly due to the fact that many children will watch this movie. The first audience of this film is likely to be teenagers. We do not want to cause too much fear and bad psychological influence on them. Therefore, my cinematographers used a long-lens to make the picture as calm and beautiful as possible, which to some extent has a huge contrast to the cruelty of war. When seeing children playing the harmonica by the river, making pumpkin cakes together, embracing the beautiful autumn harvest, but it is a nightmare ending, the audience surely would be touched.
AFF – Is today's generation of Chinese aware of what happened during this period?
Xiong – 大部分人都对抗日战争的有所了解，但具体到细菌战，知道的人便不多了，更多的人只是听说，而不清楚细菌战夺去千万中国人民性命的事实。其实细菌战受害者从未放弃对日诉讼，就为了赢得那份应得的公正。而事到如今，当年常德细菌战的受害幸存者，只剩下18位在世。
Most people know about the Anti-Japanese War, but when it comes to the bacteria war, not many people know about it. More people don't even know the fact that the Bacteria War has taken thousands of Chinese people's lives. In fact, the victims of the Bacteria War have never given up the lawsuit against Japan and fight for justice. Now, only 18 of the survivors of the Changde Bacteria War are still alive. The Dawning is also my reflection of war. I hope that when children see this movie, they will not be affected too much, but accept and understand that history. We can put down the hatred and things that can't make us move towards a better future. But always remember the history because we learn from history. This is what a person, a nation, and a country should remember and learn from and move forward towards a better future.
AIFF – Did you face any hurdles to get this film made?
Xiong – 基于真实事件改编的电影一直是我所钟爱的题材，拍摄这类题材有个非常大的挑战，那就是既要让电影的故事具有戏剧性，同时又要保障内容符合史实，过去的生活细节能得到还原。因此，影片的创作经过了社会各界的考量，指正，删去了不少天马行空的改编。但与其说这是障碍，我更愿意说这是对一个传媒人创作严谨性的要求。在这里也要特别感谢侵华日军常德细菌战受害者协会，他们为影片提供了丰富的史实资料，协会中细菌战幸存老人一遍遍的诉说，更为我们提供了创作的动力。
Films based on truth have always been my favorite but shooting such movies always has a lot challenges because we have to make the story dramatic, but also ensure that the truth is not twisted and details must be shown. Therefore, the film's creation has been corrected by different experts and some exaggerated parts have been deleted. But rather than saying that this is an obstacle, I prefer to say that this is a basic requirement for a filmmaker. Here, I would also like to thank to the Association of Victims of the Bacteria War against Japanese Invaders. They gave me a lot historical materials for the film. The survivors of the Bacteria War told the story again and again, which also give me motivation for creation.
AIFF - Can cinema heal the wounds of the past?
Xiong – 电影无法直接修复创伤，但是电影可以让人避免重复受伤。以史为镜知兴衰。一个民族如果不去思考自己的历史，不去从前人的苦难吸取教训，这个民族是没有未来的。而电影就是一个很好的传递历史的途径，导演可以通过电影提炼其对历史的理解，让历史通过电影发出声音。我期待观众看完这类电影后，会有一点点感悟，会有一点点改变。如果一万人里能影响一千人，那这个作品就成功了。
Movies can't heal the wound, but movies can help people not make the same mistakes and get injured again. History is a mirror that helps us to see the rise and fall. If a nation does not think about its own history and does not learn from the sufferings of its predecessors, it will not have a future. Film is a good way to learn about history. The director can refine his understanding of history through the film, let the history be heard. I hope that after watching this type of movie, the audience will feel something and have some changes. It would be a successful movie if it can have an influence on one thousand audience members out of ten thousand.