Interview with Jonathan Sanger

By Amanda Zhang

 

Jonathan Sanger: Hi, I am Jonathan Sanger, and I am going to be a juror at the 2017 Los Angeles Chinese Film Festival. I am very excited to be at the festival and I am very interested to see the kinds of films that are going to be shown there.

Amanda Zhang: Tell us a little bit about your own experience with Chinese films.

JS: I don’t have a great, long-term experience with Chinese films, but I have seen Raise the Red Lantern, Farewell My Concubine, and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. We don’t get to see most mainstream Chinese movies here, so it will be very interesting for me to get an opportunity to see more films that have been made in China. At this point I’ve only seen the ones that have come across because they’ve been nominated for awards or they are presumed to be some of the best Chinese films. 

AZ: Since you have watched quite a lot of Chinese films already, do you have any expectations?

I am looking to see the broadest spectrum of Chinese films. I’d like to see more of them. I think the fact we are getting much more involvement with China in cinema here in the U.S. is a good thing.

JS: I have seen really high quality filmmaking. In this country, we do certainly have some terrifically high quality filmmakers. We also have a lot of mainstream filmmaking which is just for popular taste but not necessarily the kind of the films that are award-winning. I am looking to see the broadest spectrum of Chinese films. I’d like to see more of them. I think the fact we are getting much more involvement with China in cinema here in the U.S. is a good thing. At this point I only know the very best…at least whether they are the best or not, they are certainly the ones that have been chosen for awards. Those are the one I get to see mostly. 

AZ: Do you see a reason why those ones have been chosen?

JS: Certainly. They were great films. Almost every Chinese films I have seen in cinemas here has been really high quality. I mean they are world-class films, it doesn’t really matter where they are from. They were made in China, they were made by Chinese filmmakers, but they stand up to the very best films made anywhere in the world.

AZ: Do you see a difference in the way stories are told between America and China?

JS: I do, what I have noticed is very high quality cinematography. I have seen really, again, I am speaking about the highest quality Chinese films so you have to understand this may not be representative of all the films in China. But the ones I have seen have very very strong production values. They’ve tended to be films that have great costuming, great set design, and great art direction generally. So that’s a big positive for me because I tend to make period movies. They take place in past times, they require a lot of intricate and expensive production design, costume design and great cinematography. So I feel great kinship personally with these films.

I am most interested in the films that are telling really good stories...It’s exciting to see how great films can be made everywhere. Certainly China should have a good tradition in filmmaking. I am starting to get a better sense to that now.

You asked me a question about what I saw as a difference between Chinese film and American film. It’s really a matter of art, like saying what’s the difference between one painting and another painting in front of different artists. They both can be great if they tell great stories and they are really well-made. I am most interested in films that tell stories and that have great characters. I am less interested in films that are just pure actions or films without real character development. Don’t get me wrong, I love action and I like to see all kinds of films, but I am most interested in the films that are telling really good stories. The ones I’ve seen all have really good stories that I don’t know. These are often stories that I’ve never heard of, stories about either Chinese history, Chinese, or events that happened that I might not have known about. It’s exciting to see how great films can be made everywhere. Certainly China should have a good tradition in filmmaking. I am starting to get a better sense to that now.

AZ: When you say you are starting to get a better sense of Chinese filmmaking, is that through personal research?

I think it’s great for cinema in general that we are breaking down the barriers and the walls to be able to see films that are international and can be shown everywhere. That’s to me the most important thing about the influx of Chinese cinema in the U.S.. I think they represent the best of Chinese culture.

JS: Yes, but a lot of my personal research is due to the fact that a Chinese company has been supporting the films that I have been making. It has made me more interested in the kinds of the films that have been made in China and the stories that have been told, and the kind of story that Chinese audience would want to see. But mostly, I am interested in films that have world audiences. Chinese audiences are one aspect of it, American audiences are another, but so are European audiences, South American audiences, and so on. I think any great story can cross over. It doesn’t matter whether the protagonists are Chinese or American or South American. If the story is good and the characters are real, we will relate to them and we will really want to see those movies. I am guessing that the growing Chinese audience which is likely to be, within a year or so, the largest audience in the world, is going to want to see the same films I want to see. I think it’s great for cinema in general that we are breaking down the barriers and the walls to be able to see films that are international and can be shown everywhere. That’s to me the most important thing about the influx of Chinese cinema in the U.S.. I think they represent the best of Chinese culture.

 

Executive editor: Nien-chen Lin

Proofreading editor: Alex Shifman