What the Work of a Film Director is About

Wang Dongfeng

The following is a transcript of Tai Chi Master Wang Dongfeng’s oral translation of his written response to Michael Pilz’s presentation of his „Feldberg“ film project on the occasion of a conversation between Michael Pilz und Wang Dongfeng at Vienna’s Cafe Landtmann on June 18, 1989.

What the Work of a Film Director is About. You are Austrian and your work consists, for example, in making films, doing a lot of thinking, a lot of writing; thinking a real lot, in order to later find the expression of your images and sounds, the actors, and the landscapes that make up your film. That’s what your work is about. You and I, Wang Dongfeng, expert in Chinese Qigong, Wushu, and Taijiquan, as well as Grand Master of the Tenth Dan, we speak to each other.

You have been thinking of making a film for a long time now, not a standard film because other films are not the same as this film. Your film is intended to be different, produced by different methods, but very good, so as to have the ability to provide help to every person in the audience. You have searched and looked around a lot, engaged in work activities, and collected observations, microscopic and macroscopic observations. For instance, you took a close look at stones and you looked through them, farther, all the way to the sky, down into the earth, and farther, farther, farther. And then you looked at things from close up, very close, and still closer, much closer. The truly distant and truly near, these belong together. Preparatory activities are aimed at achieving the best mode of expression, as your interest does not lie in the area of traditional films.

In order to produce a film, you need actors, but also a number of other people, staff members, and all of them ought to be relaxed and calm; and they should be willing to see from within. Inner preparation requires a great deal of training which can bolster your work, the film. You have always been rather contemplative with your earlier films, your many different films, which are only different on the surface but inwardly pretty much amount to one and the same thing. You believe that repeating the same endeavors is dull.

Now, for this film you need, firstly, a good camera, secondly, good actors, and thirdly, a beautiful landscape; these three are of equal value, meaning that man, nature, and light – which is the sun, the sun is light – these three occupy an equal position. This must also find expression in the work of the director and the actors when they cannot rely on modern equipment. The inner being must be expressed to the outside. People, landscapes, and light: that means, above all, to strike up a dialog between the inside and the outside, between what the mind perceives consciously and what remains unconscious. The film stands as the center, it speaks from inside and outside. Many of people want something but have no idea what it is they want. Then again, they don’t want anything, and they are clear about nothing at all.

You want to capture what is visible, express impressions. You have to search with your camera, but it may also happen that you won’t see anything. Here’s an example: You see a tree. Then you close your eyes, the image of the tree is in your head, it is inside you, so that now you can think about it, have after-thoughts, after, after, after – from a great, great distance. Later, you roam the world with your camera and point it at this, and this, and this; and later on you still have thoughts about what this is and what that is; it’s just like in life. You see something, then you think about it, again and again, and more and more thoroughly, a search, you search, and search, and search.

The landscape. You say, it is an exceedingly beautiful landscape, which is very good, some eighty kilometers out of Vienna or maybe a little farther. You say it is very old, a vast ocean used to extend from the area; and the sky, the earth, the wind, and the ages have created numerous beautiful islands, pretty, small, diverse islands and many things more. Gradually, over a long period of time, all of this together slowly turned into something immensely beautiful.

When you put this on film, your camera follows the mountains all the way down to the ground and even further down, then back up, higher up, and farther below, far, farther, really far, on and on, to the end, but there is no end, on and on – It’s a very old, very good, very beautiful land. Stones were dug away, which influenced the landscape and produced a number of contrasts which can be expressed by different methods. For instance, part of the dug-out countryside is covered by wonderful trees and bushes. There are broken spots, but these, too, stimulate a string of ideas and imagery. When a film reflects life, above all, wanting to produce contrasts with not being able to produce. For example: You want to follow a trail but it is raining, or you want to give someone a call but have no money, no money at all.

Some things are captured and shown in the film; later, the audience watches it and it can get them thinking; anyone can arrive at their own understanding, and depending on various conditions, each will end up with a different result. The film never demands from the audience „you must!“ this or that, it leaves everyone free to decide what to make of it. Every person can embark on his or her own search, an inward search.

The film stands as a kind of center between the inside and outside, the opposition of inside and outside from an overall perspective, of wanting and not being able to, of man and nature, individual persons and the entire world. The film, thus, raises the question of whether man is the ruler of the world, whether or not he respects its laws; these are the thoughts a film can stimulate. For instance, the sun rises in the east every morning. Many people, however, live their lives as if they wanted to see the sun rise at an entirely opposite point on the horizon; they would like to see it rise on the left rather than the right. But that is not possible because it rises to the left, in the east; it stands high at noon, turns to the right in the afternoon and sets to the right in the evening. There’s nothing we can change about that even though many would like to. A great number of people create problems for themselves because they refuse to accept the laws of nature. But the sun simply does rise in the east and it sets in the west.

Everyone has the ability to relax himself or herself, to quiet down on the inside, to slowly search for what it is, nature, the landscape, what is the sky, the earth, the wind, life. What is your life?

If, for example, you don’t know how to get to the train station but want to find the way there, or if you don’t understand stones at all but somehow want to get through them with your head, that won’t work, it hurts, your head will be broken in the process and you won’t know what’s going on. You run into many problems of this kind if you don’t know that these here are hard stones and your soft head has no way of with-standing them. Of course, you will be destroyed if you force yourself to stand in their way and resist them.

But if you stay here and keep calm, relaxed on the inside, and if you search, look at things and think about it, about where the road is, where it will lead you, the road to Vienna or Salzburg; or to Germany or to Italy. Many people, then, do something that is entirely wrong; when they don’t know the way and keep walking in the wrong direction they will run into a lot of problems. They ought to learn to relax, to think from inside, to search for the good life from within. If you don’t think, or if you don’t think enough, or if you think in an altogether wrong way you will achieve nothing, you will only be asking for trouble. Because if you wind up having difficulties, it is always you who has created them. If you are not looking for a problem you will not be confronted with it.

In Europe, there have been scores of people, artists, who have worked in the fields of dance, painting, sculpting, film, and music. They have created so much, but ultimately, just not everything, something is missing. Brancusi, the Romanian sculptor, said that artists were ruining art. He had lived in Paris, he was a very good human being – with a person of his kind it would not suffice to say brilliant. He was able to create everything from within, he never made a concrete work schedule, he never told himself: tomorrow I must do this or that, and the day after tomorrow that. He had no concept of „I must“, he created everything from within, and surely this is why his works from that period turned out very good, because they arose from within, not deliberately, but because they sprung from feeling and instinct. That’s the difference between a regulated, controlled and a natural approach.

Michael once more states that the film is the center for which there is really no plan, just as there is no plan for this dialogue of ours. With every form of art one should start by acting on one’s feelings, on what is natural. If one acts on the framework of one’s own mind, one destroys nature and art. Proceeding from one’s own self will create problems for ourselves. Michael says the film is actually not his film but that it was produced by all of us, at least by all those directly involved in bringing about the development of the film. The film, he says, is a kind of gift to the audience, which allows them to also think about the good life, so to speak. For example, when you look at a mountain and close your eyes, think calmly and bring back to life the image of the mountain within yourself, and you keep following this vision, further, further, and further again, then you arrive at the right attitude towards life, at the true philosophy, as it were.

From the start, the core of the film is relaxed, calm and steady from within, easygoing on the outside; there is simply natural tension, and it passes over into relaxation. You do something, do it by a supreme effort, powerfully, investing even more strength, and then you loosen up again, you become calm, completely tranquil, slowly, softly; and from this grows new strength to embark on new endeavors, without end, so to speak. For a long time I, Wang Dongfeng, was Dao in China, did not lead a normal life, engaged in Dao training every day, philosophy, medicine, many different things, all kinds of Daoist exercises, a comprehensive mental and physical training program. Daoist Wushu, that is a specific form of practicing.

You, Michael, have asked me, Wang Dongfeng, to advise you as to the nature of Taijiquan and the essence of Dao so as to help you achieve the best possible artistic result. You have been thinking for a long while about how best to express Dao cinematically in order to make it accessible to them and, thus, maybe to help them. And you have asked me to support your work with my experience in this area.

I have said to you, from the beginning, heaven and earth were together, U-Chi, which is Dao. The origin of the cosmos lies in Dao. When man amalgamates his spirit and body with Dao, namely for a long time without interruption, if he trains his mind and body to find Dao, to attain it and thus reaches the goal, then will follow from this: Spiritual vigor, vitality, physical health, and positive thinking. Everything will turn out well then, people will be content and laugh. Then, Michael, too, will be pleased and satisfied.

That is my name, Wang Dongfeng, Daoist name is He Xian.

© Wang Dongfeng