Clad in a blue blouse and jeans, Song Fang shares the youthful demeanour of the novice filmmakers who participated at the Cinefondation, the Cannes Film Festival's sidebar competition for student short films. Unlike her peers, however, Song is no stranger to Cannes: she was here as Juliette Binoche's co-star in Hou Hsiao-hsien's The Flight of the Red Balloon (2007). But Song is on her own this time round, as she represents her film, Goodbye, which she completed as a graduate piece at the Beijing Film Academy. The short tells the moving story of a young woman who travels to the home city of a late close friend and is taken in by her friend's parents when she is injured in an accident.
So how did your experience this year compare with that of two years ago?
I was under much less pressure when I came here as an actor. To be a director here, with my own film, is much more stressful, as everything falls on my shoulders. I'm dealing with everyone myself.
What are your most striking memories from your previous trip to Cannes?
People did remember me from my appearance in The Flight of the Red Balloon and approached me to chat when I was lining up to get into other screenings. There were also other young filmmakers who told me they loved Flight and gave me DVDs of their work. And I was also impressed by how audiences here would give filmmakers long ovations after screenings - they really appreciate the filmmakers' efforts and are willing to show it.
What inspired you to make Goodbye?
The story originated from an experience I had. A friend was injured in an accident in Beijing but was unwilling to return home because she didn't want her parents to be worried about her. So I brought her home and my parents took care of her. That happened in 2006. I remembered this when I was considering stories for my own graduate film in 2007, and decided to use this as the framework of my piece. It was finished in June 2008.
Why did you decide to bring the film to Cannes?
When I finished the film I thought I might try to enter it in international film festivals. Since the Cinefondation competition is about student films, and the length of my piece fits their requirements, I decided to send a DVD here. But this is not the first festival Goodbye was in - it has previously been shown at the Women's Film Festival in Seoul.
How did the experience in Seoul help you prepare for Cannes?
It helped me to prepare for speaking in public about the film. I remember the first meet-the-audience session I attended in South Korea and I was stuttering, even when I was just introducing myself.
Why did you enrol in the academy in the first place - have you always aspired to become a director?
I studied information management in university. Back then, in the late 1990s, we still didn't have the chance to watch many foreign films, so I didn't really have a clear idea of what a career in film would be like. But I still wanted to study film after I graduated, so I went to France and Belgium for two years to do that; still, I wanted to learn more about the craft back home so I took an exam at the Beijing Film Academy and finally got in.
How did you end up working with Hou?
I took part in the Asian Film Academy at Pusan in 2005 and Hou was the dean. That's how we met, and he said to me later that he might want me to take part in his next project. And he eventually did call me, and flew me to Paris to be in Flight of the Red Balloon. I spent a month and a half in Paris for that - but it's OK as I'd already spent a year in France as a student. But at the end of the day, it's still working in a foreign country - it's always good to be working at home.