"The High Life" Talkback with director and writer Dayong Zhao

By Alison True, March 30, 2021
A liveblog of the talkback event with Zhao Dayong, joined by colleagues such as Rikun Zhu and Gina Marchetti.

Director and writer Zhao Dayong was joined by colleagues to discuss his film.

The talkback with director Zhao Dayong on March 25th was one of the webinars that FLEFF held.

The webinar started with a showing of the trailer for the film. It included the most memorable parts of the film, from poetry readings to the meaningful conversations the characters have. This trailer is all about honoring the simplicity and the style of Zhao’s film and is as beautifully edited as the movie. 

Gina Marchetti is a professor at the University of Hong Kong and is one of the founding members of FLEFF. Being the moderator of this event, and begins introducing all of the guests with a PowerPoint full of information. 

She begins with Zhao Dayong, the director and writer of “The High Life,” the film the talkback is centered around. He smiles and nods as she describes how he began as a painter, and then grew popular because of his documentaries. Released in 2010, “The High Life” is his first fiction work.

Marchetti goes on to introduce Zhu Rikun, an independent filmmaker, and Zhang Zhen, a film scholar from NYU. They will be providing comments on the film. And finally, Jiangtao Harry Gu is introduced as tonight’s translator, and he is also a film scholar from Hobart College. 

Marchetti asks the first question, which is about how Dayong created his film.

Being an English speaker, and could not understand Dayong as he spoke. However, he spoke very clearly and thoughtfully, making Harry smile and nod. Speaking with his hands, any viewer could tell that Dayong was very passionate about his work and about his art. 

He answered the question, describing how the story of “The High Life” took elements from his life and the environment around him. And in surrounding himself with things that are very familiar to him, he can make a film like this one. The film is between fact and fiction, observation and narration. 

Marchetti turned the panel over to Rikun, who spoke very thoughtfully about “The High Life.” He spoke about how the film broke ground, as it focused on stories that people could relate to. He describes how the film becomes more and more complex as you watch it, and how because of films like this, different communities get the recognition they deserve. 

Zhang Zhen now speaks, going off of Rikun’s points. Even though she is the last to speak, she has been very invested in this panel the whole time, nodding and smiling. She talks animatedly about Chinese Independent Cinema. She talks about how Dayong has been everywhere, filming on location in small cities and observing. She discusses how “The High Life” unfolds and humanizes all the people around China who are experiencing what the characters in the film experience.

When the Question and Answer portion of the panel began, one of the questions was about how Dayong used cinematography to give meaning to his film.

He answered truthfully, making himself and Harry laugh as he translated. Dayong talked about how when he thinks about cinematography, there are no preconceived notions. He likes to go with the flow, following the story and actions. The only thing he consciously does is use color and sound to add emotional layers to his film.

Before the end of the panel, Marchetti spoke one last time, smiling as she did. She described “The High Life” as being one of Dayong’s freest films, being artistic and story driven but still free.

Dayong thanked us personally, and all of the other panelists echoed his thanks.