Interview with Nansun Shi

Nansun Shi © AFP

Born in Hong Kong, Nansun Shi is an influential producer in China. After her television debut, she became involved in cinematographic production in 1977 with Cinema City at the time of the rise of the Hong Kong New Wave. There she met her future husband, director Tsui Hark. In 1984, they established their own production company, Film Workshop, which gave them the opportunity to produce a number of successful films: Once Upon a Time in China, Peking Opera Blues, Black Mask 1 and 2 and more recently, Detective Dee. Nansun Shi has been coming to Cannes since 1982. She is a member of the Feature Film Jury.


What is your first film memory?

When I was very young, my mother loved Hollywood pictures. In the 50s and 60s, she would take me to the cinema to watch all these Hollywood MGM-musicals. My memories are very glamorous, about the studio type of movie, romantic comedies with Cary Grant and Doris Day and all these youth films like Where the Boys are ? (Henry Levin, 1960, editor’s note). In the evenings, our domestic helper, a Chinese maid, would take me to watch Cantonese opera. So, in the day time I watched these big Hollywood studio productions, and in the evenings these Chinese black and white films.


What is the main reason you love films?

I would say, firstly, films are the composite of signs and art. Film is everything that is about humanity: architecture, design, emotion, visual structure, audio structure. And when I was young, I loved to go into this dark room and then come out with a whole different set of emotions. Sometimes you cried a lot, sometimes you laughed a lot, sometimes you learned a lot, and sometimes you didn’t learn anything but it was an entertaining experience.


Why did you want to become a producer?

Actually, it sort of happened by accident. At about the time I was working in television, in the late 70s, in Hong-Kong there was the Nouvelle Vague, the new wave of directors. Many new directors were making their first films. And naturally, the film directors in television wanted to make movies and they said, “You’re very good at organizing and arranging things.”Why don’t you help and become a producer ? ” We didn’t even know what a producer really did but we just did it. We all started at the same time and we all knew each other. We all learned at the same time, on-the-job.

How did you react when you were asked to be part of the Jury?

Of course it’s a great honour to be a member of the Jury. I have been coming to Cannes since 1982. For me it’s like taking film vacations. All you have to do is watch films, enjoy films, talk films, think films.


Do you know the other members of the Jury?

I know Olivier Assayas. I met Robert De Niro a long time ago in Hong Kong. I know Martina’s husband, Pablo Trapero. I met him in Pusan.


Which other Jury member would you like to be for a few hours?

Bob De Niro. He’s the president!


What is the difference between films from China and from Hong Kong?

There are some differences. We have one country, two systems. For China, there is a censorship system, which means that many films made in Hong Kong would not be able to pass the censor in mainland China – for instance, films with cops and robbers, violence, or subjects about ghosts, because of superstition. But our industry is very young, and things are changing.


But the censorship is not more relaxed.

We began economic reforms in 1979. For films, the government initiated new policies to be able to go with the times in 2001, 2002. But real initiatives took place in 2003. At the moment, for instance, we have only one category. So you pass or you don’t pass. There are no categories for adults, under 13, under 18, etc. I think the government is trying to do that but it would take time.


Do you have any particular ritual connected with the Festival?

Maybe drinking too much.


Interview comments gathered by B. de M.

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