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Distant

About this film

We live in a world which, every day, alienates us a little more from the people around us. Social media brings us together, and yet makes many people feel more lonely and distant to life than before. Zhengfan Yang’s first feature film Distant shows a remarkable sense of this realisation. In 13 long takes, the director from Hong Kong shows us the distance between people, both on and off screen, and defies a long held tradition in cinema: He distances the viewer from a character instead of bring us closer. Each take tells a story. Each take reinforces the idea of distance, and forces us to rethink our society and, also, cinema. Zhengfan’s feature film, influenced in parts by the works of Tsai Ming-liang, is a fascinating take on the meaning of closeness and distance very much in the vein of Benedik Fliegauf's Milky Way, and I am particularly proud that we can present this film here on tao films four years after I had seen it first.

Nadin Mai (tao films)

Interview with the Director
Why Distant? The title of your film appears to comment on the aesthetics of the film. But there also seems to be more.

The aesthetics of the film refer to the the wide shots, the long takes and the way I connected the audience with the film. All those elements are about distance. And it’s also about the subjects; each long take contains a small story about distance.

The characters in your film are a mystery to the viewer, because you refrain from employing close-ups, which could show their facial expressions or their body language. Why do you refuse the viewer access to the characters?

On one hand, the film is not about the characters but the distance between characters. I was trying to show the distance between the characters and even the distance between the audience and the characters, so it’s ridiculous to use close-ups to bring the audience and the characters closer. It’s not about how to allow the audience to understand the characters but how NOT to. All I wan’t to do is to prevent the audience to understand them. We are strangers. That’s our situation today.

On the other hand, for me, the atmosphere of a film is more important than the characters. I denied the viewer access to both the characters and the story. I deliberately cut off the connections between all these 13 shots. I could have built up many connection between all these stories and leave some more imagination to the audience. They might think, oh here’s the police I saw in the hospital scene, but I didn’t. There will be no distance if they are connected.

Is Distant an active engagement with the canon of Slow Cinema?

I am not sure, to be honest with you. But by slowing down the film, it allows for a stronger sense of time to come from the image and sound, and allows for more observation on the space too. Most of the time we see only actions or dialogue in a shot, because many filmmakers just don’t work on time and space and so when the action is done, they have to cut it away. But there’s also time and space. I am creating a world on the screen with time and space, using the image and the sound, and I want to invite the audience to feel them.

Do you see yourself as a slow-film director?

I am not sure. I don’t want to define myself as a certain kind of filmmaker, although it is true that the film I made is slow because it is dealing with a certain kind of subject, and time and space, which I concern as the most important issue for me in cinema. Actually I believe that we are all dealing with time and space, but it doesn’t mean that slow is the only way to do so.

What is your background? When did you start making films?

I have a Bachelor in Law but I spent most of my time watching films in those four years. Then, I started making short films around 2007 after I finished my study at law school. I was taught by a film professor, Zhou Chuanji, in a one-on-one film course for one year. After that I went to Hong Kong for a Master of Fine Art program in film production. I just graduated last year and Distant is my first feature film.

Are there any specific directors, writers, philosophers or general artists who have influenced your work or from whom you take your inspiration?

Well, Michelangelo Antonioni inspired me by his way of exploring the space in a film while I see how time has been captured and sculptured in Tarkovsky’s film. For contemporary cinema, I consider Lav Diaz as one of the greatest filmmakers, together with Apichatpong. Both of them are shaping the future of cinema. But when it comes to something about influence, I believe I was influenced a lot by Tsai Ming-Liang. It is mostly the images, the sound, and the ambience he shaped in his films...

Are you working on a new project?

I have several projects and some interesting ideas that I want to make, but it’s getting more and more difficult to get funding for films. Most people want good stories instead of good films.

Thank you very much for this interview.