If you can travel back in time using a time machine, whom would you like to travel with? Ma Liang chose his father who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
"Our Time Machine" is a touching Chinese documentary which described how Ma, a renowned Chinese photographer and artist in Shanghai, got closer to his father, managed to stick to his creative career despite various challenges, and found the true meaning of life.
In order to fulfill his father's will of father-son cooperation, Ma created a dedicated puppet play with autobiographical scenes inspired by his memories with his father, who was the former artistic director of a Chinese opera theater in Shanghai.
The play tells a story about an engineer who brings his Alzheimer's disease-diagnosed father traveling back in time using a time machine to different periods of his childhood and reliving the joyful, adventurous, magical times when they were together.
With his parents aging and their health deteriorating, Ma had been struggling between giving up his play to take care of his parents and sticking to his career to create something beautiful for the world.
"I believe the play will move many people and make them realize the importance of love. We artists always have to be extremely enthusiastic about our work and willing to dedicate our time and passion to it. My father had the disease, the best present for him is my work, because he was also an artist, he could understand me," Ma told Xinhua during a recent interview in New York City.
"It is a story of creation, father-son relationship, and circle of life - when an old generation declines, a new generation is born, the mid generation begins to experience and understand the circle of life and finally have their own interpretation of life, which may even surprise themselves," said S. Leo Chiang, director, producer and writer of the documentary. He felt strong resonation with Ma and his father's story and joined in the filmmaking a few months after Sun Yang, a Beijing-based director, started shooting in March 2015.
Being a photographer and filmmaker, Sun was not only touched by what was going on between the father and son, interested in Ma's planning on the puppet play, but also was charmed by his photographic works and craftworks - all the puppets and stage props were created by Ma and his colleagues.
"I hadn't foreseen that I would be able to think and realize what life is and how life goes on when I started the project. I just believed it would be an interesting story because what was happening in their real life and on the platform was coherent, and the artistic beauty of Ma's works was attractive and appropriate to be shown on the big screen," said Sun.
"At the risk of sounding too grandiose, we really felt our film is an exploration of what life is and what humanity is, how we cope with the challenges and painful moments in life, and how we turn those into beautiful and celebratory moments," Chiang explained emotionally.
Chiang also told Xinhua that the composer, Paul Brill, who has composed for numerous award-winning films, TV series and commercials, cried throughout the film when he was invited to compose for the documentary, because he just lost his own father and the film was very personal to him.
At the end of its premiere during the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, when the credits started to roll, the audience burst into spontaneous long-lasting applause, with some of them quietly wiping their tears.
"It was an incredible thing to find people who really understand the film in the most visceral level that they don't just intellectually understand the film, but also feel the film and really live the film," Chiang added.