Wang Guangyi, at the height of his career as one of China’s most successful contemporary artists, is settling into middle age with increasing ambivalence, a front line witness to his scene’s contradictory commercial impulses. Liu Gang is a supremely promising new face on the scene, plucked from art school into the high gloss world of corporate sponsored gallery openings and fawning (and largely Western) curators. In Chimeras, Finnish director Mika Mattila weaves the lives of these two men in subtle yet enthralling blend of cinéma vérité, art biography, and prescient cultural analysis.
Please describe your film in your own words.
Mika Mattila: Chimeras is a reflection on modern Chinese identity. Through the lives of the two protagonists, the film tries to capture the ongoing battle for the soul of China’s future, in between Eastern and Western influences.
What inspired you to tell this particular story?
MM: The art scene in Beijing was my “home base” for years. At some point I came to realize that the internal debate within the avant-garde circles was like a shadow play of the future that might be—an attempt to find another way of modernization.
As an artist in your own right, what was it like making a film about artists?
MM: It made things easier—at least in some ways. Being artists themselves, my subjects understood me and my motives very well, and they could appreciate the way I worked. In other words, I always felt I was talking to them on the same level. It is a great privilege to work with intelligent people, but of course it also poses some challenges.
And how was that process influenced by working in China?
MM: In the beginning I tried to ignore the “Chineseness” of the film, and rather take my characters as individuals—international artists. However, at some point I came to realize that what truly fascinated me was the ongoing debate about Western and Eastern influences. The film became much more “about China,” rather than just taking place in the global city of Beijing.
What do you want audiences to take away from your film?
MM: I hope the film might open for the audiences some novel perspectives on China, on identity, on a range of several issues, in fact. But to be really honest, I don’t have any particular idea or thought I’d want the audiences to take away from the film. I hope it could work on several levels.
Do you have one piece of advice for aspiring filmmakers?
MM: Believe in your own vision, even stubbornly. No one can really help you and no one can make the film for you, not fundamentally. Take all the advice and help you can get, but in the end make sure that you keep your own vision intact, no matter how experienced or prestigious the source of advice might be.
What are you most looking forward to at the 2013 Hamptons International Film Festival?
MM: I am very excited to finally screen the film for the East Coast audiences! I’m also thrilled to be able to finally see the famous Long Island with my own eyes, rather than through the eyes of the hundreds of filmmakers and writers who have captured it for me.
Mika Mattila was born in Helsinki, Finland 1974. He graduated from Tampere School of Arts & Communications in 1998, majoring in cinematography. For years he was based permanently in China, working as cameraman in Asia. Today he divides his time between Helsinki and Beijing. Chimeras is his directorial debut.