We had the good fortune of connecting with Roku Jingwen Long and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Roku Jingwen, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
As a film director, writer, and producer, filmmaking is my way of expressing my complexity and helping others tell their complex stories.
I grew up in a unique international neighborhood in Beijing, China. As a result of this experience, I have been able to observe different kinds of life, as well as embrace stories that others cannot see. My instinct for challenging stereotypes has always led me to believe that everyone sees the world differently, and everyone has so much to share regardless of their label. Human nature is complex and multifaceted, just like the film. It is therefore suitable for telling complex stories through such a medium.
There is no journey that is the same for everyone, and every journey is so unique that it is worth expressing. Seven years ago, as a young filmmaker in Beijing, I could not have imagined that I would continue my filmmaking career in New York City. And now, I’m a firm believer in the power of complexity after living in New York for almost three years and experiencing so many different types of life. Life is unpredictable, and so are the people around us, and that makes life so wonderful. Complexity is the power of filmmaking, and filmmaking is the way to convey this power.
In addition to loving and being good at my job, I am thrilled that I have chosen to pursue filmmaking as a career. Since I was a child, I have always loved imagining scenes and characters when I read. According to the subtext I felt from the story, I decided how to view the characters. It is probably my earliest experience building a storyboard, a habit that gradually developed over time. For me, creating images in my head is both entertaining and effortless. Every time I write, I’m writing for the images I have in my head; the colors, the details, and the textures are already there.
Furthermore, my family always supports me as an artist and gives me knowledge about how to develop a project. I learned to make art from my father, who is an executive chef. Creating a new dish is all about aesthetics, aroma, flavor, nutritional value, and preparation cost, which is the budget. Observing my father’s development of each dish was like watching a small film being produced. I have learned to always consider multiple aspects when developing my projects.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
In my experience as a filmmaker who travels and makes films around the world, I am adept at discovering common stories of humanity across regions. In the spring, I completed a short film called Sour Lips, a collaboration between two countries. This story is about two women who meet in a Karaoke Club and inspire each other through a small opportunity, with the help of two sour tangerines.
In all of my work, I think I am very demanding visually, and I also strive for strong visuals and style. Whenever I directed on set, I would carefully examine my monitor, confirm all the details within the frame, and ensure all camera movements had a reason. That’s why my friends nicknamed me “a human microscope” when they saw me looking at my monitor. In creating Sour Lips, I pay a lot of attention to color and composition, as well as using special material reflections and camera movements to create different atmospheres. The story and the emotion were told entirely through the camera, even though I used some pioneering camera language visually. In addition, I also added original music at the end of the film in order to heighten the mood. (Fun fact: all of the sound samples in the original music are my own voice).
I’m very proud of the production of Sour Lips, even though we had some difficulties in casting because we couldn’t find a perfect actor for one of our key roles due to our mindset of perfection. But I am very grateful to my team and myself for supporting each other, and I finally found our ideal match! I had a lot of fun and the process, and it makes me always think casting sometimes is very much like dating!
Furthermore, I helped my favorite New York handbag designer friend create a series of handbag videos this summer, which made me realize how powerful storytelling can be in advertising. My creative process always aims at balancing artistic value with commercial value, and I believe that a good story and high artistic value can nourish each other.
My pride and joy will always be making films and telling stories, which I have always been passionate about and good at.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
New York City is definitely not easy to explore in one week (Haha! ), which is why I love it so much because it offers so much variety and options. However, New York’s most fascinating aspects will always be its people, diversity, and freedom. Take the train from the beginning to the end. There will be a variety of neighborhoods, and communities, with a variety of residences to see. There will be people dancing and playing music when the train is running, and there will be so many beautiful people with beautiful outfits coming and going. There is a beauty to this city that has to do with the way people, cultures, and communities live together in harmony, accepting each other and embracing each other. As I enjoy all parts of New York, I don’t think there is a need to recommend specific spots since everyone will create their own itinerary. Whatever your interests, NYC has it and, most importantly, will make you proud to have them.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I will always be grateful to my family for their support. Their love and respect have taught me to persevere in sincerity and love. Likewise, I am grateful to New York for allowing me to discover a more freeing way of life. I would also like to thank my advisor, Tom Kalin, at Columbia University. Who inspired me to be proud of my special complexity and my unique journey in life. So I was able to discover stories that no one else had ever noticed and to create connections that no one had ever imagined – I created many intriguing short films and feature-length scripts in this way.
Lastly, as a woman and as a minority, I want to thank myself for being proud of who I am. While walking in different parts of the world, I am thankful that I never gave up and still have a strong passion for art and storytelling.
Image credits： Hongwei Wu, Emily Massey, Ling Qu