Meet Mei Liying: The Filmmaker Behind ‘Cocoon’

Next up for the Iris Interviews is Mei Liying. She talks about her childhood hometown, filmic influences and the Chinese LGBT+ community.
An unhappy marriage, a love affair and a child who holds all the secrets. 'Cocoon' is about 11-year-old Qingqing who begins investigating her mother’s close relationship with a female friend. It is one of the 35 international shorts competing for this year's Iris Prize. Director Mei Liying made 'Cocoon' with a crew that was 70% women. She talked to me about her childhood hometown, her greatest film influences and the Chinese LGBT+ community. [caption id="attachment_4599" align="aligncenter" width="383"]Mei Liying Mei Liying[/caption] I've read that 'Cocoon' is loosely based on your own childhood experiences. Could you elaborate on that a little? 'Cocoon' is set in Wuhan, China - which is my hometown. I was born and brought up there till I was 13 years old. Wuhan has always been my favorite city in China. And I always wanted to go back to shoot a film there. We transported all the equipment, cast and crew there from Beijing. The locations, characters, some events and details came from my childhood memory of this city and the people there. The story itself is fictional. What sparked the creation of this film? When did the idea come to you? The story is set in 1997, which was a period of time when China was going through a lot of transitions. The economy of the country started to boom, Western values started impacting people’s lives, etc. I wanted to tell a story about a family that’s also going through a lot of changes during that time, from a young girl’s point of view. There are so many stories of the Chinese LGBTQ community that haven’t been told. So, that is why I wanted to tell this story. People should hear more of their voices and recognize their existence in China. [caption id="attachment_4596" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Still from 'Cocoon' Still from 'Cocoon'[/caption] How have your experiences of growing up in China and going to university in the US impacted your film-making? Growing up in China gave me a strong sense of my culture and roots. And studying abroad in the U.S. allowed me to see things from different perspectives, and to be open-minded. Which films and directors have been your biggest influences? 'Malena' (Italy) and 'In the Heat of the Sun' (China) are two films I watch over and over again. Because I feel strongly connected to the stories and the characters. I enjoy and appreciate the visuals and the music so much in these two films. [caption id="attachment_4597" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Still from 'Cocoon'[/caption] How did you find out about the Iris Prize? Why do you think there is a need for LGBT+ film festivals? Our cinematographer Jon Keng shot a film that won the Iris Prize before. He told me about this amazing festival and said I should absolutely submit my film. I think LGBT+ film festivals are very important. It gives the filmmakers a platform to present their stories and creations. And it gives the public a platform to learn about the community or to feel the love and the support of the community. Will this be your first time visiting Cardiff? What are you most excited about? Yes, it will be my first time visiting Cardiff and the UK! I’m very excited because I know I’m about to watch some amazing films and to get to know some great filmmakers.

'Cocoon' will be screened as part of the Iris Prize Shorts Programme 5.