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10/26(SUN) “RIVER ROAD” from Competition Press Conference

Looking for Home – River Road
Li Ruijun

©2014 TIFF

River Road follows the story of two brothers, Bartel and Adikeer, as they set out across the parched and environmentally devastated landscape of northwestern China in search of their father. After the death of their guardian grandfather, they take off on a pair of camels, following the river home. Director Li Ruijun takes the opportunity to fill their picaresque adventure with reflections on the disappearance of traditional lifestyles, the changing environment (largely at the hand of man) and Buddhist teachings. All this is couched in a touching story of two boys coming to terms with loss, the meaning of brotherhood and where they fit in this ever-changing world. Like a Chinese Landscape in the Mist, the story of the two boys is moving and enigmatic. Li Ruijun, his executive producer Fang Li, his line producer Zhang Min and cinematographer Liu Yonghong came to the Tokyo International Film Festival for the film’s world premier.
Li Ruijun talked about the casting of his two young thespians. “These two children live in the village where we shot this movie. But actually, the younger brother was in my previous film, Fly with the Crane. And also, the elder brother was in one of my short films.”
His line producer, Zhang Min, who also plays the boys’ mother explained about working with the kids. “We lived together for two months. We had a chance to get to know each other. When working with kids, what’ s most important is trust. When we’re with them we had to be very honest – and then they started to trust us. And once we established the trust and rapport, then the director could start rehearsing them for the performance. And for the performance what was important was to not let them get nervous in front of the camera. And this film required very naturalistic performances – so it was no problem because they were acting like they were doing what they did in everyday life. So I think it went very well.”

©2014 TIFF

Li Ruijun explained a bit about Yugurs, the traditionally pastoral ethnic minority, whose world he portrays in River Road. “Yugurs were actually part of the Uyghur tribe. They share the same language, but because of religion they split apart. Yugurs believe in Tibetan Buddhism and the Uyghurs believe in Islam.
In ancient times they once had a kingdom so they were a big tribe, but no there are only 14,000 Yugurs left. Actually there was a Yugur village near the small village I was living in as a little kid, so I knew them very well. That’s why I decided to make a film about them.

“The actors who did the father, the grandfather and the big brother are Yugurs. But they’re losing their own language. They don’t speak much of the Yugur language anymore. The younger brother is not Yugur. He’s a kid who lives close to me. I was trying to learn their language. And I tried to use the Yugur child as much as possible, because I wanted them to talk in their own language.”

©2014 TIFF

He added, “That area was a beautiful steppe – very lush. In the Han era they raised horses for the Emperors. There was a lot of grass. There was a lot of water. But now it’s very different, as you can see. So these boys were looking for their house, but the house exists only in the past.”
The bittersweet ending of the film finds the boys facing a new future that may not be as idyllic as what they might expect. As Li Ruijun explained, “They have no choice but to face reality. All kinds of different realities are chasing them. There’s nothing they can do by crying. There’s no use for it. So I didn’t shoot them crying.”

©2014 TIFF
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KEIRIN.JPThe 27th Tokyo International Film Festival will be held with funds provided by Japan Keirin Association.TIFF History
26th Tokyo International Film Festival(2013)