After addressing his family’s decades-long trauma in IDFA opener “Four Journeys,” Louis Hothothot (Louis Yi Liu) is already developing another intimate story. In “A Big Dream,” he will follow an American girl who weighs nearly 250 kg and dreams of becoming an actor in Beijing. In a clip shared with Variety, his protagonist admits to struggling with self-worth because of the way she looks, rendered “uncastable” because of her size.
“I am always interested in personal emotions and personal stories,” says Hothothot. In “Four Journeys,” the story in question is actually his own – conceived in violation of China’s one-child policy, introduced in 1979, he was an illegal “black child.” Although his birth has changed the life of his parents forever and ended his father’s political career, his family stayed mum on the subject.
“I started to think about it back in 2015, during the refugee crisis. I was volunteering in a refugee camp and their situation reminded me of my own. Even in my own country, I wasn’t allowed to exist,” says the debuting director. After moving to Amsterdam in his twenties, Hothothot was trying to rebuild his identity, also by unlocking his past.
“I started to wonder: What does it mean to me, to be a ‘black child’? I wasn’t allowed to go to a public school, I wasn’t registered. History and politics really affect people’s lives, they affect how they behave and how they think.”
Hothothot hadn’t seen his family for five years before making the film, but the absence made the whole process a lot easier, he says. Even though at first, they actually “refused his camera.”
“They didn’t want to participate, didn’t want to talk about the painful past. But I just kept on going. When my parents wouldn’t answer my questions, I would look elsewhere. I would ask my grandmother or my uncle and later share my findings with them. In order to get to a certain point, I couldn’t just draw a straight line. I had to circle around it.”
While the experience proved emotionally taxing, it mended their strained relationship – as well as the one with his older sister. Also thanks to the constant presence of the camera, which surprisingly enough opened up a whole new space for communication.
“My camera wasn’t just a tool or an object. It was like bringing a new friend to your parents’ house,” he says.
“There were moments when I wanted to drop it all, pack my suitcase and go back to Amsterdam, but my camera helped me stay. I could hide my face behind it and feel more like an artist, not just their son. As an artist, I had to find out the truth. There was this one story which made me very angry. I thought it proved that my father didn’t care about me. I was hoping he would finally say sorry, admit he was young and acting hastily. He didn’t, but the camera helped me realize that he saw these events very differently.”
After years spent abroad, surrounded by another culture, Hothothot compares the long-delayed reunion to “when East meets West.” But the distance proved useful in the end.
“When I came back, everything was different. My country, my family and especially my parents. After my father retired, they moved to Beijing, so they also started a new life. It felt like talking to strangers sometimes, but it gave me space to observe them and to observe myself. You had this old culture clashing with a new one, trying to come up with some sort of compromise.” And, as he points out, finally having the patience to listen.
“When I was younger, we would just fight. Now, we talked about all these things we never shared before. There was something magical about it. I am slowly getting used to people telling me that my story reminded them of their own parents, their own sister. Whenever they come up to me, I feel like my family is just getting bigger and bigger.”
“Four Journeys” was produced by Pieter van Huystee for Pieter van Huystee Film. Mokum Filmdistributie is handling distribution for the Netherlands.