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The Scene meets Hong Kong-based cinematographer Christopher Doyle to discuss how his adopted city has inspired him in his work.
The Scene: So you've been living in Hong Kong for a long time.
Christopher Doyle: About 10 or 12 years... well, basically I've made so many films here so my wife at the time said you'd better stay there because I've given up on you. But now she's my assistant director so we've worked on another relationship. I grew up in Australia. I grew up by the sea. I was a sailor and I was in the merchant marine. I think cities with water like New York, Amsterdam, Hong Kong and Sydney are very basic to creative energy. I really believe that in the sense of the sea there is a sense of possibility. The great thing about places like this is that you can walk. You walk and then you have a sense of neighbourhood, a sense of community. It's a city of diversity and levels -- economic, social, cultural and, hopefully, idealistic. La nao is the Mandarin word for noise and it means excitement. That's why Chinese restaurants are so noisy and why karaoke is so popular in Asia. People need la nao -- which means hot and noisy.
TS: Do you feel like an outsider here?
CD: No because I think people have embraced me in a genuine and generous way. Of course, engaging in language helps, and just your general humanity is the basic thing. The great thing about this city is that I have made about 15 films within about five minutes of where I live. I think filmmaking has to be about giving something familiar another voice. That's what a good pop song is like, It's looking at things in a different way which is why I with this particular skin tone and this particular voice have felt extremely engaged here. In my job you look for a response to the space -- what we just went through or what we live in -- and as a person who is not of Chinese origin I think the point about why we engage with a city is that we see it with different eyes and our need is to celebrate that. How do you respond to a city? You respond emotionally I think. A great painter and poet in the 60s once said if you don't walk around your block and find five new ideas then you're not an artist. And I think that's what it is, you have to respond to things each day. We should celebrate possibility and for me that is what this city suggests: that everyone is looking for the possibility because everyone is from somewhere else and everyone needs to be something more and I think that energises our lives so much.
TS: Has Hong Kong changed a lot since you've been here?
CD: The energy comes and goes -- in a place like this and a society like the whole globe or Asian society, there are always ebbs and flows. There was enormous emigration through fear of what would happen in the 1990s and Australia and Canada have been the main beneficiaries of that. But there is still a sense of community and then it shifted to China and now its shifted back here. That is most of the reason I'm here; the integrity of the Chinese spirit. There is a great sense of need and that's what energizes the place. The great thing about Chinese cultural identity is that within a social structure there is a very strong sense of personal identity within a social structure that works.
TS: Have you thought about living anywhere else?
CD: I think home is where the heart is. This is where my heart is. We made a film called "Happy Together." We went all the way across the world to Argentina and we made a film that looked like it was made in Hong Kong. So obviously there is something basic to why we're here and I think that people who have traveled or who live in a global world do and can choose to live in the space most appropriate for them. This place happens to be here for me.
TS: What inspires you about Hong Kong?
CD: It's always been about the energy. The way in which we film, the way in which we work, the speed at which we work, the simplicity of the communication -- it's all from this culture, this society, this engagement, this need to move on quickly from this antithesis from where we came from and where we need to go. The energy, the noise, the proximity, the sea, the engagement without any of the fluff. People do respond to your integrity or your identity or your need to be alone sometimes even in a very complex and compact and intense social environment.
TS: Why is Hong Kong such a good setting for making movies?
CD: It's difficult actually and this is a secret that most people don't know which is that many of our films that are meant to be set in Hong Kong are actually in Bangkok. There is an antagonism towards artists and that's difficult because maybe that makes us fight harder. I think there's an incredible energy to what we do but it's almost antagonistic at times. Maybe that's what we need. But then again, artists are the enemy of the state. Maybe fighting for it makes it better.
TS: You're self-taught. How has that helped you in your work as a cinematographer
CD: "You make more mistakes. That's the point. You engage with your mistakes. You have to learn faster, quicker and more often and you'll never learn enough and you never get self-complacent. You know that learning is a never-ending process and you know that you never know enough. You trust things like intuition, or integrity, or character or light.
TS: You've worked in Hollywood and Hong Kong. How do the two compare?
CD: Hollywood reminds me why I want to do Asian cinema. I think love is a cultural event. Language is a cultural experience. The films we make come from the culture we feel comfortable engaging with.