FILMMAKER SPOTLIGHT: Olivia Martin-Maguire, Director of CHINA LOVE

March 31, 2019
At Only Photo Studio just out of Shanghai. This is a "go-to" pre wedding photography studio with 3 floors of 'old world' romantic and fantasy sets. July 2015

New England Premiere
Peabody Essex Museum
Sunday, March 31 at 12:30p.m.

Nothing says love and marriage in China better than its $80 billion pre-wedding photography industry. Just over 40 years ago marriages were arranged by the Maoist state, and wedding photos (if any) consisted of a single black and white passport image of the couple. In today’s China, pre-wedding photo shoots have become the ultimate display of modern romance, status and wealth. CHINA LOVE follows several couples on their fantasy rides of glitz, excess and underwater glamor as they embark on their quest for the perfect photos.

Salem Film Fest writer Sarah Wolfe connected with Director Olivia Martin-Maguire ahead of the New England Premiere of CHINA LOVE at the Peabody Essex Museum on Sunday, March 31 at 12:30p.m.

Sarah Wolfe: Your background is in professional photography. What inspired you to get into documentary film?

Olivia Martin-Maguire: CHINA LOVE started as a photo series. Once I really started talking to people, though, I realized there was more depth to the story of Chinese pre-wedding photography that needed exploring. I wanted to do something with more impact and emotional audience engagement about this subject than photography allowed.

I took a documentary course at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School as a way to learn more video work to help alongside my photojournalism jobs. I felt I needed to skill up. During this course I had to present a formed idea, so I pitched the story of CHINA LOVE. And from there I managed to find amazing producers who then helped open doors to broadcasters and funding.

SW: How has your photography work influenced your filmmaking?

OMM: For me it was a natural development from visual storytelling. It’s like I was just waiting for the depth that film can offer.

SW: When did you first become aware of China’s pre-wedding photography industry?

OMM: The pre-wedding photo shoots happen all over the streets of China. Especially in the French Concession in Shanghai where I lived. It started when I began photographing a cluster of these shoots on The Bund one morning when I was running early for a job with the Australian Financial Review. I then pitched the images to the AFR and they commissioned a feature story on it. I went with a journalist after that to a big, factory-style studio and began to learn more about the pre-wedding photo industry.

SW: Your film starts off as this vibrant, swirling view of an industry that creates dreams for couples – the Chinese Dream of wealth and happiness. But then its tone beautifully transitions into something much deeper. At what point did you realize your initial interest in pre-wedding photography would provide such a rich opportunity to explore China’s complex history?

OMM: I was searching for a beating heart of the story. The one question I asked people over and over again was, ‘Why are these photos so important to every Chinese couple?’ It always came back to the restriction during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, when the government arranged marriages and the couples only had a passport-sized image to mark their union. I then found a charity that does pre-wedding photography sessions for elderly couples who had endured those times in China. Their stories became the beating heart of the film.

SW: What has been the overall reaction to your film?

OMM: I was worried about China, but this has been our most popular audience. People have thanked me for reflecting their culture with warmth and honesty. Often they feel that foreign films and media only highlight the negative about their country. They’re encouraged it’s being shown in a positive light from an outsider’s perspective. Also, many Chinese students living in Australia and NYC have told me this is their story — that they relate to some of the film’s couples that struggle between their tradition and the Western ideas of freedom.

SW: What overall message do you hope this film brings to audiences?

OMM: Those of us in the West are encouraged to quickly judge everything. This can lead to demonizing other nationalities without seeing the fuller picture of who they are. I hope this film shows that by having a little more empathy and a holistic perspective, so much more can be gained from our connections in the world.   

Tickets are on sale now for CHINA LOVE and can be purchased online here.

Associate Producer Amelia Chappelow will be present for a Q&A after the film screening.

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