VIFF 2019: The World Is Bright unravels a Vancouver student's mysterious death
Of the 10 years that Vancouver director Ying Wang has spent making her documentary The World Is Bright, the last two have been the most challenging.
That’s because she’s had to weave together the complex threads of the death of a young man named Shi Ming—a story that has morphed into a mystery-thriller; a portrait of immigration’s painful toll on mental health; an intimate family tragedy; and a microcosm of globalism and mass societal change in China. She had gathered multiple interviews with family members, experts, and officials, not to mention haunting dramatizations, archival photos, and mountains of legal documents.
“Because we still have a lot of work to finish the final cut, I feel really stressed and I don’t believe I can actually finish it,” says Wang, who also cofounded the Cinevolution Media Arts Society in Richmond. “The two years of editing, that was very full of frustrations and self-doubts…and also there was all the financial stress, because we ran out of all the grant money a long time ago. There were a lot of moments where I would wonder why I took on this terrible monster work. But I think, now, definitely it’s worthwhile.”
The film follows Qian Hui Deng and Xue Mei Li, after they receive notice from the Canadian government that their son, Shi Ming, has committed suicide and has already been buried. Wang follows them through mountains of red tape, and back and forth to China, to find out what happened. Along the way, there are revelations and twists that Wang never could have predicted.
The filmmaker found herself drawn into the tale because she saw similarities to her own experience: like Shi Ming, she grew up in Beijing amid massive progress. She, too, had come here as a foreign student, and she had witnessed her own sibling fall victim to mental illness after immigrating to North America (the focus of her first feature, Sisters).
As the ambitious and artful work comes together for VIFF, Wang feels assured the momentous task was worth it, building a multilayered story that goes far beyond today’s headlines about Chinese immigration. “I hope this film can provide a deeper understanding and a full picture—especially about foreign students,” she says. “You see so many of them everywhere in Vancouver. But who are they? And why did they come here?
“Migration is not one direction, it’s back and forth and people can get caught in between,” she adds before heading back to her final cut. “I still feel there’s not enough films about these new complex stories about immigration.”