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'Film Novel' Blurs Boundaries

Director Xiaolu Guo describes her genre-defying debut feature How Is Your Fish Today? as a 'Film Novel'. She discusses the influence of her literary background on this singular and fascinating work, w...

Director Xiaolu Guo describes her genre-defying debut feature How Is Your Fish Today? as a 'Film Novel'. She discusses the influence of her literary background on this singular and fascinating work, which blurs the lines between documentary and dramatic filmmaking.

You’ve been published since the age of 14 in China and now have eight novels behind you. How did you come to writing and directing film?

Xialou Guo: I spent seven years studying and teaching at the Beijing Film Academy and then came to the National Film Academy in the UK where I studied documentary filmmaking. Only then did I make my first film, the documentary The Concrete Revolution. It’s funny that I started to get funding to make films in a foreign country.

Is that how you came to use the documentary strand in How Is Your Fish Today?

XG: It started out as a documentary but before shooting I realised I wanted to reconstruct reality and there’s a big space to play with that. The central character, the writer, is a real person, a friend of mine in Beijing, but when he starts to write about the criminal travelling through China to Mohe, that creates the fiction within the documentary.

How much of that was pre-planned?

Originally, I wanted to make a documentary about Mohe, the place in Northern China because it was so difficult to get there, it takes days, no-one ever went there. When we arrived there it was minus 50, so we couldn’t make a film there for practical reasons.

How would describe the combination of the documentary and fictional strands?

XG: For the British Documentary Foundation, who funded it, it’s a very new way of presenting documentary film but here, in Edinburgh, it’s been classified as fiction. For me, it’s like a ‘Film Novel’ because of my background and experience as a novelist. I think film is about constructing a story whether it’s documentary or fiction.

What effect do you think this has for the audience?

I want people to realise how ambiguous reality and imagination are, that you live in your imagination rather than in reality.  I want people to get a geographical sense of the extremes of China, of the journey from south to north, the urban to the rural.

How Is Your Fish Today? is showing on 25 and 26 August at Filmhouse.

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