Based in LA, Zheyu Liang is an award-winning film director and editor. She received her MFA from the UCLA School of Theater, Film & Television. She is inspired by real life stories of humanity and is passionate about bringing diverse stories to the foreground of the zeitgeist. Lots of films that Zheyu has been directing and editing shed light on the complexities of social issues and promote positive changes.
Today we’d like to introduce you to Zheyu Liang.
Q: Can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got where you are today?
I was born and raised in China. As the only child in my family, I’m grateful that I have very supportive and open-minded parents, who always encourage me to follow my interests and try new things. Looking back, I wouldn’t be able to work in the film industry and to be who I’m today without their dedication and support along the way.
I discovered my love for film from a young age. At a time when my peers were devouring animated cartoons or blockbuster movies on their screen, I was watching documentaries, independent and international films. It was Werner Herzog’s “Into the Abyss”, that I watched during that time that my curiosity and passion for filmmaking took shape. It really got me thinking deeply about how he was able to accomplish that in the cinematic medium. Suffice to say, Herzog inspired me to consider if I could be a filmmaker who could wield moving pictures and sounds, and most importantly personal stories, to shed light on the complexities of social issues and promote positive changes. Since then, I didn’t just watch films to be entertained, I watched them and thought about how they worked.
Later, after receiving my BA degree from Shanghai University’s School of Communication and Journalism, I decided to move to LA to pursue my dream of being a filmmaker. I attended UCLA’s prestigious School of Film, Theater & Television where I earned my MFA degree. From then on, I’ve been working as a film director and editor.
Q: How would you describe your work as a director/editor? Could you share some of your work with us?
I think film is such a powerful medium that can evoke deep-felt emotions and create positive social impact. And I’m always passionate about making films that communicate my voice and bring underrepresented stories to the foreground of the zeitgeist. And I wanted to showcase Asian community stories to the world and give global audiences a better picture of what life in my corner of the world actually looks like. Many of works speak to my intention and philosophy of filmmaking.
“Asian Inspirations” is a feature documentary that I just finished directing recently. It is sponsored by Chevrolet and presented by ODK Media and Shandong Film & TV Media International. The film highlights three influential Asian-Americans – they are Duy-Loan Le, the first woman and Asian elected as a Texas Instruments Senior Fellow, Prof. David Chu, a distinguished Research Professor at University of Georgia and NIH Advisory Committee Member, as well as Charles Huang, the business leader of Pasaca Capital Inc, innovator and philanthropist. Told through personal stories, this, first of its kind, film, not only depicts the footprint and legacy of Asian Americans, showcases how Asian-Americans contribute to the society, but also inspires younger generations to think about “what is success?” and how to strive to make a difference to the world as well as give back to the community. Now the film is aired on OnDemandChina, OnDemandKorea, and OnDemandViet.
Another film that I directed and edited is “Transplant”, which has a special place in my heart as the stories contained in the movie remind me of the time when I first came to the United States. It is an observational and reflective doc about two rootless and tenacious Chinese immigrants, who are trying to make a home on foreign soil. Lying somewhere between a dream and a nightmare, they came to the United States in their 40s and faced a tenuous existence in a land that never quite feels like home. Struggling with language barriers and the difficulties of life on alien soil, they arduously try to fit in with American life and often find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place.
Q: What do you think of film editing? Could you share some of your experience and work with us?
I see film editing as a very vital aspect of storytelling and filmmaking as it greatly impacts the way that the audience perceives a film. When I edit the films, I always try to find creative ways to emotionally connect and engage the audience. At the same time, I would like to shed light on the underrepresented communities and promote positive social changes.
“The Portrait of a Thug” (dir. Kennedy Love-Green) uses home videos and surveillance footage to capture an intimate portrait of a young boy growing up in South Central LA in the early 90s to mid 2000s, however when he suddenly become a victim of police brutality, the very same footage is tainted and manipulated to support a vilifying and destructive narrative. “The Bond” (dir. Jahmil Eady), is a story about Aria, a pregnant and incarcerated woman fighting for her most precious connection with her baby and against a system designed to isolate them from each other. The film is based on a true story and has the potential to inform, heal and inspire change. “Pendulum” (dir. Obinna Robert Onyeri) tells a story about a young man who tails his adoptive mother on her birthday and finds a deep family secret. It is about identity, empathy, transformation and healing. It’s love – love in finding strength in oneself to forgive and enlighten another. “Siren” (dir. Maria Valdez) is a heartbreaking story of a mother seeking justice for the murder of her son, but first she must come to terms with her own past.
I think my experience and skills as a director myself also play to my advantage when I work as an editor. When I’m sitting in the editing room, my job isn’t just technically blending the images
and sounds together. I always think about how to tell a compelling and engaging story, how to make the audience feel emotionally connected, how to create a tone, pace and style that is the best and unique for the film and how to create positive impacts. Also I’ll work closely with the directors to brainstorm new ideas and try different creative things to help bring the stories to lives.
Q: What are you working on right now? What are your future goals?
Now I’m working as a director and editor on another feature documentary “One and Only” (working title). The film is an intimate exploration of the unintended consequences of China’s One Child Policy. Grounded in cinema verité, it takes a personal and nuanced look at three one-child families that are each navigating their mother-son relationships and building towards an uncertain tomorrow for everyone involved. The film is in an intense post-production stage now and is about to come out soon.
In the future, I plan to open my own production company and continue directing/editing films that not just entertain and engage audiences but also empower diversity and promote positive changes in society.