Charles Xiuzhi Dong is a talented director, whose directorial debut “Cookie Heart” received “Best Cinematography” Award at the International Filmmaker Festival of New York. Written by Charles Xiuzhi Dong and Stefan Nachmann, “Cookie Heart” is produced by Jenny He, James Qiu, Gabriela Naumnik. The talented cast includes: Norah Hoffmann, Anders Geipel, Smitty Chai, Arianna Williams.
In 2018 Charles Xiuzhi Dong co-founded his production company “Chalice Films” together with producer Branton Choi.
Hollywood Insider Interview with Award-Winning Director Charles Xiuzhi Dong
Hollywood World: First of all, congratulations to the “Cookie Heart” team for receiving the IFFNY Grand Jury Prize “Best Cinematography” Award in New York. How did you feel at the time when you found out?
Charles Xiuzhi Dong: I went into the award ceremony expecting nothing out of it. When the “Best Cinematography” category was being announced and I saw Cookie Heart was nominated, my eyes were glued to the screen. Once they announced the winner, “Cookie Heart by Charles Xiuzhi Dong,” I was in complete shock as I walked on stage to give a speech that I did not prepare for.
Hollywood World: What was the most significant decision in shooting your current film?
Charles Xiuzhi Dong: Without a doubt, shooting my directorial debut in one-take was definitely the most ambitious decision I could imagine. It brought a sense of challenge for myself, and to jump outside my comfort zone in order to execute this cinematic technique that I have a high for justice.
Hollywood World: What part of the script/story best stood out for you and why?
Charles Xiuzhi Dong: The realness and relatability of the story was for sure a stand out, as I brought a true story between me and my best friend, Stefan Nachmann who is also the cinematographer, to cinematic life: including all the bells and whistles that comes with a dramatized story.
Hollywood World: Without giving it away, tell us a little bit more about the characters and the lead actors.
Charles Xiuzhi Dong: Cookie Heart are about two distanced childhood friends from Germany, who is suddenly reunited on a big day, years after they have last seen each other. However, one of them have been completely absorbed by the typical American party school culture, while the other remains with a pure, innocent heart.
Hollywood World: How do you bring this story to life while staying true to your vision as director?
Charles Xiuzhi Dong: I try as much as possible to stay true to the emotions of the story, instead of worry about getting the specifics. Sometimes, the beautiful melodic nature of a moving image, combined with the specific beats of the story is more important to me than staying true to my vision. I always tell my actors that the script is simply a blueprint, and I am open to experimentation which could bring the best surprises on screen.
Hollywood World: What excites you about this project?
Charles Xiuzhi Dong: The challenging nature of a 15-minute-one-take excites me. When I was on set dreading if completing principle photography was possible, seeing the seemingly impossible task completing right in front of my eyes, it was the moment which made it all worth it for me.
Hollywood World: What other works are you most proud of?
Charles Xiuzhi Dong: I recently completed my latest short film in April called Last Days in Chinatown, which is based on a true story of a Chinese Sino-Vietnam war veteran in the 90s. It’s a film that follows his journey through the hardships in New York City, facing drama at work and at home. It is a true immigrant survival tale that I am very proud of, as it marks my departure from lighter subjects as seen in Cookie Heart to a subject I genuinely care about.
Hollywood World: What films have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?
Charles Xiuzhi Dong: Cinema Paradiso is my favorite film of all time. The perfect balance between hopefulness and sentimentality is what makes me return to this film over and over again. When I am having doubts with my work and life, I watch Cinema Paradiso and every time it brings to tears, motivating me to keep making movies.
Hollywood World: What do you do to enhance the collaborative process when working with actors, screenwriters, producers and others creative members?
Charles Xiuzhi Dong: Before I work with anyone, I want to make sure I know said person decently well. Everyone has their own unique story, and I am interested in knowing where they are from and their perspective. One of my favourite quotes is, “there isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story.” I think this sums up my belief on collaboration pretty well.
Hollywood World: What experiences have you learned from in life? How did that change you and your creative process and the way you go about making films?
Charles Xiuzhi Dong: All I learned over my recent years of doing filmmaking is always listen to myself, and never let anybody to change my mind.
Hollywood World: How do you see your role as a filmmaker?
Charles Xiuzhi Dong: I have tried different roles in the process of filmmaking, such as producer, camera and G&E. However, at the end of the day, I realized directing is what I deeply passion about. I think I do have a good clear vision, and it is a highly satisfying position. Most importantly, it’s the pinnacle of the film industry’s creative side.
Hollywood World: Which film festivals that you have been part of would you recommend to other filmmakers looking to screen his/her films?
Charles Xiuzhi Dong: I would recommend the International Filmmaker of New York, I absolutely had a great time with everybody who attended the festival.
Hollywood World: Do filmmakers have any responsibility to culture? What message do you want to convey with your films?
Charles Xiuzhi Dong: I do think that there is a social responsibility for artists and filmmakers, that we tell stories matters to the people that we care. In my films, I always try to convey my audience those hidden figures story and their feelings.
Hollywood World: What other hobbies do you have?
Charles Xiuzhi Dong: I like to cook, I think a good director need to learn how to be a good cook, there are so many things that in common between these two positions, they both bring different elements together and have other people to join the process and to share this amazing experience.
Hollywood World: What’s next?
Charles Xiuzhi Dong: I recently started a production company called ‘Chalice Films’ with my producer and friend Branton Choi, I will be focus on building the company network and also other independent project. I am currently in the process of developing my next film which was funding by one of the biggest production company in China, the production will start around the end of July in my home city, Shenzhen. And I am very eager to learn and experience more.
*Cover Photo Credit: Director Charles Xiuzhi Dong accepting the Best Cinematography Award, during the IFFNY Awards Gala, held at Kaufman Astoria Studios (Photo by Middle Class American Productions, Joni Blenn)