Film Director Queena Li Speaks with 84000
Film director Queena Li—creator of our tenth anniversary #SaveWisdomNow video—has just seen her debut feature premiere to widespread acclaim. Bipolar (2021) is a continually surprising, stylistically wild road movie, in which a young singer-songwriter (played by Leah Dou) arrives in Lhasa, Tibet with no articulated purpose. Reeling from a recent trauma, she suddenly finds kinship in the brightly colored lobster on display in a tiny aquarium in her hotel lobby. Soon she absconds with the crustacean to return it to the legendary waters where it was caught—halfway across the country, and launching us into a moving, occasionally hallucinatory tale of becoming and self-actualization.
Here, Queena shares with 84000 how her interest in exploring the mind has inspired her creativity, the role film can play in reminding audiences of the relevance of Buddhist wisdom today, and what offerings she finds most beautiful.
Queena: My name is Queena.
84000: As a filmmaker, how much is your work inspired by Buddhist ideas or practice?
Queena: I think that when you believe in something, that belief actually subtly transforms you, and seeps into your life. So inevitably, what you create will be greatly influenced by it.
84000: What brought you to Buddhism?
Queena: I guess I was exposed to Buddhism when I was little— through the influence of my family.
84000: You recently released a new feature film called Bipolar. What is it about?
Queena: Bipolar is one the film’s internal titles; it also has another name for the external plot line of the story: Just Another Accidental Journey. The film is about a person who’s lost control over her mind, so she finds herself trapped inside a very extreme emotional state, and step-by-step she tries to recover that control over the mind.
84000: Could you tell us a little bit about how it relates to your experience with Buddhism?
Queena: In Buddhism we also talk about the “mind” as being our big boss, so it’s very important to explore topics related to the mind. This film was an experiment, I suppose. An experiment in exploring this issue.
84000: You recently created a brilliant new brand video for 84000’s tenth anniversary. Can you tell us why you were so willing to do this?
Queena: That short video for 84000 was created by me and a whole group of friends. It wasn’t just me. Everyone on the team felt very, very lucky to have this opportunity and also very grateful, because the significance and value of a project like 84000 is very far reaching. So yes, we felt very lucky.
84000: Have you received any reactions to this video that were either meaningful or unexpected?
Queena: Quite a few young people who don’t know anything about Buddhism, who’ve never been exposed to Buddhism, really liked that short video. That made us very happy — perhaps the medium of animation really is better for connecting with younger people.
84000: In translating the Kangyur and Tengyur into English, 84000 reminds audiences that what we are working with is part of a living tradition, and that the sūtras are as relevant now as they’ve ever been. What role do you think you can play here?
Queena: I really aspire to become a useful tool. Even if I’m just a cog in the wheel, that’s enough. Even that would be very fortunate.
84000: What role can video and film play?
Queena: As our teacher has said, film is this era’s thangka painting. So I think that multimedia such as videos, films, and television can definitely be precious and very effective communication tools for this contemporary moment. If we use them well, they can definitely be a very valuable medium.
84000: What role can artists play?
Queena: For some of the artists I know, I think it’s not just about whether or not their work is related to the buddhadharma — it’s more about how they, in their daily lives, whether waking or sleeping, or how even the simple words that they utter, can actually me a lot of encouragement. They inspire a lot of people, including me. So I hope that these artists stay healthy and live long, using all sorts of methods, not just through their work, but even through their mere existence, to provide us with lots of inspiration.
84000: Can you tell us anything about what you have lined up for the future?
Queena: I don’t have anything fixed in stone, I don’t know. Things change so quickly, especially during the pandemic, so I haven’t been able to plan much.
84000: How do you think we can share the wisdom from these two-thousand-year-old texts to the younger generation?
Queena: I feel that the “younger generation” that you’re referencing here no longer really includes us. For those who are really young, the speed, frequency, and richness of the information that they receive is really astounding. So I think if we try our best to speak to them as equals, they’ll be more receptive. Using a more relaxed approach, without preaching to them condescendingly.
And some rapid-answer questions:
My favorite sūtra is…
Queena: It would probably be the Heart Sutra because it’s very beautiful and also very short.
The offering I find most beautiful is…
Queena: I find it difficult to say what the most beautiful offering is, but I think that as long as we make offerings with bodhicitta as the motivation, it’s beautiful.
This year, I’ve really come to appreciate…
Queena: This year, I think I’m very grateful to everyone who helped us. This film isn’t exactly a very mainstream work, so to have been able to make it this far really makes me appreciate the beauty of impermanence! Because everytime a difficulty arose, there was always some form of corresponding assistance that helped to resolve the problem. It was very moving.
As time passes I…
Queena: With the passage of time, I am also a step closer to death, that is the only thing that’s for sure. Other than that there isn’t much else that’s certain.
On my shrine you’ll always find…
Queena: There’s lots of strange and bizarre things, like toys… Basically just some strange stuff. But those are things that in the circumstances of the moment gave me a lot of help, or reminded me of certain things. So I have a sense of gratitude for them and therefore put them on my shrine.
I find inspiration in….
Queena: I think that inspiration is everywhere. You can’t really purposefully look for it. Sometimes it just appears suddenly. If you search for inspiration, I find it really difficult to find. Inspiration isn’t something to be searched for.
An unforgettable pilgrimage place I would love to go back to is….
Queena: I really miss Varanasi. I really, really hope the pandemic will quickly and peacefully subside and that I can go back there soon.
Posted: 11 Aug 2021