Red roofs, the film, tells the story of a youngster who is eager to escape from her own room. It provides an immersive window into the lives of a group of residences who are trapped in heritages waiting to be demolished in the modern city. You can find a massive gap between the protagonist’s belief given by her mother and the real situation. Now she has to depend on herself. Has she moved out? Through this film, we meet this youngster, to 'walk in her shoes', and learn about her pasts, ambitions and hopes.
In Shanghai, several heritages are protected by the local government, surrounded by many tall buildings in the city centre, like mountains embrace villages. However, residences are getting trapped in that. How beautiful the outside is, how horrible the inside is. Red roofs tells the story of one of the regions.
What drew me to this project was reading stories from my protagonist, Ye, posted on social media whilst I was seeking a good story. At that time, I didn’t think of this as my new subject, just felt strongly surprised. Because in my mind, the community she lives in is the city centre of Shanghai, ten minutes walk from our high school (we are previous classmates). After school, our most favourite activity is eating street foods together near her home. But she never talked about her room and 'how luxurious it is' just came from my imaginations.
After talking with Ye, I found there are many conflicts with her - the best home location but the worst living situation; the house to be re-located but as heritages protected by local government; her ambitions with confidence but the failure of the first postgraduate exam, etc. That is what initially drew me to make this story.
In the filming process, I met a big problem - how to show my protagonist’s room? There were two tricky obstacles at that moment: the first one is the crowded room, which only allows one person in it. The second one is Covid-19 which made our team impolite to visit her family. I thought I must give up the idea of filming by myself, but using her room in the film is the most direct way to show the living situation. I cannot give up, I said to myself. Therefore, no matter how hard I should film it. I tried to communicate with her using smartphones, but the images she sent to me are very dark and full of noise. Finally, I gave her a camera that is easy to use. We made some phone calls to direct how to use the camera and what I wanted while filming. Fortunately, we cooperated pleasantly. This experience reminds me of a beautiful sentence from a Tale of Two Cities written by Charles John Huffam Dickens, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’. Clearly, it was a rare opportunity to extend my filmmaking practise as a director.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I wasn’t interested in making the film tedious and complicated to reveal social and economic issues. Instead, Ye is optimistic and loves laughing. We can see she always explains her experiences as telling a joke. I’m trying to keep the film visceral and surprising in its emotion and arc. What I want to convey is giving the film a positive future and be hopeful.