Zheng Lu Xinyuan’s debut feature, Jet Lag, is articulated from two trips, a logbook during quarantine and a family one. The first begins in Graz, in April 2020, the month in which the director fliee back to China in the midst of confinement: connections on the screen of a broken phone, protective suits on the flight, adhesive tape to seal the door of the room’s hotel. But it also intersects with an earlier journey from China to Myanmar where her family tried to find out what happened to her great-grandfather, who left in the 1940s and never came back. The filmmaker films both trips and everything that surrounds them in this sort of black and white video essay.
– How much is the title Jet Lag not only a reference to the time zone spanning trip from Europe to Asia but also a metaphore of your family’s disconnection between its past and its present?
Here, “Jet lag” is a phrase used for the reasons that you’ve mentioned above. It is also referring to my sensation and status of being in the creation process. Yet how much a title works for a film is up to the viewers.
– Where does the need to explore your family story through a hybrid documentary-video essay come from?
I started filming in 2013. The content gradually showed its shape to me. I couldn’t find another way to process my thoughts and reactions to the influence of the story that had laid on me.
– What parallels have you found between your COVID-19 isolation and your family’s tracing of their roots?
The film does not just place the quarantines during the pandemic in parallel with the family inquiry. We attempted to merge two experiences that are intertwined and reflected on each other like double exposures. The purpose of adapting such structure is to give a contemporary and personal context for the diaspora, family ties and intimacy discussed in the film.
– “There is no main character,” your girlfriend observes at the very beginning of the movie. Do you agree on her opinion of you being the lead but yet not admitting it?
As a character in the film, I struggled. As a filmmaker, by dropping the comment at the beginning of the film, I suggested the questions that we were analyzing throughout the film. What will be the fun in life if we can’t face, deal with or challenge our own characters.
– What does absent, violent and disinterested fathers as a recurring connection between the characters in your film say about the approach to fatherhood both in old and contemporary societies?
The fathers in the film are individuals portrayed through my lens, research and editing. Fathers are formed by their circumstances and upbringings, so do we and our expectations of them. Patriarchy is rooted so deep that it takes every single person’s responsibility to think how a father we each want and why. What we’ve created here is an open letter rather than a statement.
– At one point in the film, your gaze shifts to Myanmar itself, its civil wars and the Spring Revolution that followed the latest military coup. Why did you decide to go into its recent history?
The film takes off from several starting points and catches up with the most present reality. I can’t talk about the past by ignoring what’s happening in front of me. And it is the losses and departures that take place at the moment that awake and question us again on our perceptions of the past.
– How much have you used the social distancing restrictions of the pandemic to the film’s advantage?
It is a part of the reality that we’ve lived.
– What do you think is the reason for the rise in this century of a new authorial self that you have found, both in the plastic arts and in literature, cinema or theater, an unusual field of artistic development?
I’m not sure how new an authorial self is. We need introspections and to keep examining and updating them with expressions and communications. Nowadays, we have more access to the public through the internet, either anonymously or with a purpose of establishing ourselves. The reactions from the mass media will also work back on the forms and content of the expressions. Artists always work on figuring out who we are no matter what day or age.
– Do you plan on going on exploring yourself in future projects?
I believe that creation requires self-exploration, though it is often shown in various ways and forms. So, yes.