Junting Zhou
A film by
Once uppon a time... Oh, no no, not like this. Once, I've met director Junting, we spoke. I liked the conversation. Second time we've met, we shoot together, I enjoyed that too. So, here we are, speaking for Dicecream.me, because that's what we do. We met, we spoke, and we share.
Today we are living in such a difficult time. How you handle this?
I was kind of an otaku long before this quarantine lol. I have spent more than 10000 hours on my favorite game DoTA in my life. I was also quite a binge consumer for other video games, movies and tv series, anime and books. I am not a very outdoor and sociable person in general. And I am usually not bored at home, hehe.
Will it end and what world it will be?
Of course it will end. This is not the first pandemic in human history and definitely not the last one. The difference in this pandemic from all the previous is that it happens in a time of information explosion. It is not just a crisis of public health but also of information overload, which has both pros and cons. I think we are learning and adapting to this new pace of life. I believe the world will remember this pandemic and people might develop a post-covid-19 lifestyle.
Ok, let's go back to the art. Tell me, why cinematography?
It is hard to articulate a specific reason why I am doing cinematography now. It just feel natural for me at this point. I have been practicing still digital photography since teenager. And I also want to become a professional artist, which is difficult in China. After I came to New York, it feels possible for me to realise my dream. I don't like doing commercial content. Cinematography applies to a lot of more substantial content than still photography I think, eg. scripted narratives and documentaries. Of course, those can be cliche or interest oriented as well. But it is more likely they can deliver meaningful messages.
How it affects you?
When I decided to make this short documentary, I chose to make it vertical for Instagram only. I believe there will be more people watching this short documentary on Instagram, or mobile social media in other words, than in traditional film festivals. I think this short documentary itself is a good answer to your question. There are more ways than ever for filmmakers to share their works. It is important for us to learn to make contents that are native to these platforms.
You created a short documentary, which was published by the New York Times last month, your feelings, your thoughts, what is it for you? Covid-19 makes a lot of things different, accessibly with isolation more and more people began to engage in the art, obviously, they are reflecting the situation, will the movie industry change?
To me it was a very casual piece of work. But I also make this documentary to honor this memory that I have with my parents during this pandemic. I think self-quarantine is a good chance for us to meditate and look into ourselves, to think about what we want to do and what we can do in our lives even in this situation. There more home made contents on social media now than ever. However, for the movie industry, I think the biggest change is in distribution rather than production. There are many debates happening now for film festivals, like SXSW or even Cannes, if they can bring the same significance of physical cinema event to the virtual world. There are also some films giving up their theatrical release and turning to online release only. The industry is adapting to survive. This pandemic is accelerating the digitalization in cinema history.
You challenged yourself in a director way. There are a number of routes of varying levels of difficulty? What are yours?
Realistically speaking, I guess it is hard to start to make money as a professional director, especially for people don't go to film school and don't engage in the film community/industry in the beginning. In terms of art, the biggest challenges for me as a director is to construct a whole film in my head that will still stand when it is made. Of course making a film is always a process of exploration. We always try to figure out what the film can be in the process of making it. But sometimes it is still disappointing to find out your plan doesn't work in the reality, hehe.
How about ideas? Should I always understand director's plan or I can trust my feelings and lean on them with no verbal explanations?
I think once you make a film, the film is independent from its maker. So it is always up to the audience how they can interpret the film.
You are also a great cinematographer, I like your work, tell me what is important for you while you are shooting behind the camera?
I can say the control of lighting and composition. But the more I do it, I realize the most important thing is to capture the great moment in acting or genuie human emotion in documentary.
I saw your movies, and I love "Shoka" a lot. Please, tell me your story, what the ideas you usually want to share with the world?
Inner loneliness and vulnerablity is always the theme in my films. For "Shoka", I want to not just show his vulnerability but also how he accept his vulnerability instead of run away from it. It is actually a strength to look at your weakness and accept it.
I like the way you showing your thoughts, is it difficult to make them real?
It depends on how complex the thought is, hehe. I always try to keep my project practical and realistic.
Photo or video?
I think they are just different media. It is easier to tell story in still images. There is no time for the story in still images. It is more like a flat piece of information. But moving images consists of a flow of changing infomation. I like both media but it take more effort to make video for sure.
Sometimes, when I take pictures, I am not 100% satisfied with results, always criticise myself, so thats why I use film camera a lot: I can not see the picture right away, how about you? Cinematography and direction are not easy language, how you handle this fact?
When it comes to cinematography, I think it is a more complicated question. Because they are technically very different. It is a lot more expensive to use film in filmmaking and the exposure measurement can be also more complicated. For the world of narrative films, where everything should be under control and constructed, people use film mostly only for its unique aesthetics. And for documentary, I think people would only use digital now for the sake of budget and date management. There are definitely different philosophies behind films and digital. But I think such debate happens more in documentarian still photography.

Let's say we are having this discussion in the field of documentarian photography. Although I use digital camera only, I think the effect of 'not seeing the picture right away' is fading away. I think the huge amount of images consumption everyday has changed most people's way to create images. Nowadays, most of us only recreate images that we already have seen. It is not a process of exploration or discovery but reconstruction. So it doesn't matter if we can see the image right away because we already know what it should look like.
Who is your biggest fan and who is the most important critic for you?
Haha, I am not sure if I have any fans at all. My most important critic is my mentor Deridre Boyle. Although I don't usually make films in her domain, but she has great eyes and can always help me to find the right path.
I think you have fans. For example, me.

Thank you, Junting. Stay safe.
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