The flight from New York to Beijing was a bit intense, but the cramped seat and crowded arrangement were nothing compared to what greeted me once I hit the ground. China can handle more traffic than anywhere I have been. People flow on top of each other, no distinction if they are in a car, bike, or on foot. They weave in and out of each other without incident. Every westerner flinches watching what would be certain death for mere mortals: but not the Chinese. It's as if they move as one.
In this environment, I had no idea what to expect from the audience watching Winter's Bone.
The first day with my translator and a classroom of young filmmakers I was rewarded with bright sweet voices who knew all the indies of the past 10 years, had done their homework on the author of Winter's Bone the novel, and felt very at home expressing their likes and dislikes. They were nervous and I was nervous. By the end of the hour I was signing autographs and posing for photos.
Student taking notes during class discussion with Kate Dean. Photo by Meredith Lavitt.
The second Q&A was a more formal environment. The embassy in partnership with the Sundance Institute/Film Forward program screened Winter's Bone at the Beijing Film Academy. The theater was enormous and the audience turnout was pretty incredible. The following day I met with a classroom of "Future Producers and Agents." These were more seasoned students than from the previous Q&A. They wanted studio films. They wanted to know how to make money making films. And they wanted all these answers now. Input/output ratios was the direct translation. In other words, tell me how to make the most money while spending the least. One student even asked how to achieve so many awards with such a small budget film.
Kate Dean with students at the Central Academy of Drama, Beijing. Photo by Jill Miller.
I hesitated, sensing a pretty clear tactic with this question. "Magic," I said.
Because it is magic. Really great films are made all the time and disappear in a blink. Sometimes they just don't fall into the right year, don't get attention, or are just unlucky in an already overwhelming year. Despite desperately wanting it, there is no way to plan against all odds and control or predict success.
So, as far as I am concerned, you do what you know how to do. You find the story that is yours and you tell it as best you can. You work hard to be honest and articulate and edit yourself in a way that serves the visual storytelling.
And when crossing the street in China, you look not only both ways, but in all four directions. You'll still feel like you could die at any moment, but if you trust yourself and jump in it should be fine.