Ying Wang’s award-winning film follows an elderly Beijing couple for 10 years as they investigate their son Shi Ming’s mysterious death in Canada. rooted in devotion, loss and grief, the documentary opens like a slow-reveal thriller but becomes a heartbreaking indictment of mental health support systems and bureaucratic black holes of immigration policy.
visually, the original idea was to combine the mid ’80s / early ’90s China of Shi Ming’s youth with the contemporary Canada of his new life. but working through rounds, this approach didn’t quite touch on the full scope of his story, while staying appropriately sombre and minimalist. separate options emerged: one that spoke to his traditional Chinese upbringing; and another that had him alone in Vancouver. two places and time = two posters.
the image for Poster #2 came from a series of candid, haunting shots of Shi Ming in Stanley Park. following on Ying’s idea to reference old postcards, the orientation remained horizontal, while a layer of wear and discolouration was applied, with midtone adjustments to the photography.
from a distance is the image of a young man. but closer, he’s indistinct and blurry, made of many smaller pieces. like the Dengs, we discover that who we thought Shi Ming was, isn’t actually who he is.
after completing the “Postcard” version, we revisited the traditional Chinese family photo for Poster #1 (the “Ghost” version). the disappearing child treatment isn’t mine — for the final, i just reworked the layout, title and credit block, and faded the Chinese characters to match the the visual.
The World is Bright streams until June 24 at Hot Docs 2020, where Ying nabbed Emerging Canadian Filmmaker Award. last year at VIFF, the film won the 2019 Sea to Sky Award.