All too often we only consider our place in the world; our likes, our history, our perspective of what the world is. Isolation affords comfort but rejects connection. It’s uncomfortable to consider the path of others while cultivating one’s sense of self. Artists like Rain Zheng are blessed or burdened, depending on your personal view, with a life that focuses on this. Born in the small town of Yongan (southern China) she has become an important independent film maker with a strong and defined voice. Her films tackle some of society’s most provocative subjects like constricting views of female sexuality, judgement of a homosexual lifestyle, and others, yet she still finds time to poke fun at repression (as in the futuristic Offsprung). The child of parents who grew up in a difficult era for China, Rain possess an untempered voice as a filmmaker in a time when all of the old studio rules seem to have been replaced; those who understand that a powerful voice resonates on all available platforms are leading this charge.
The path to directing was never a clear defined goal for Zheng. The formula that created it was an environment which allowed her to explore painting, theater, and music. The baseline was accessibility to the arts, even if a career in the industry didn’t seem like a feasible goal to her family. The early days of Facebook (pre-firewall in China) gave her the ability to chat and connect with people from other parts of the world and sparked her imagination. It wasn’t until college and her first paid experiences as a ghost writer that the visual trait of her writing made sense on screen.
Motivated by a cultural precedent which communicated to her that a woman was to find her place in a relationship secondary to others, Zheng began using her talent to speak about the plight of women around the world. Esther (winner for Best Horror at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards) was based on a book of reportedly true events in Colonial America concerning society’s repression of female sexuality and the danger it placed upon women in these times. A horror film which confronts a subjugating culture is as timely and poignant today as during the period in which the film’s events occur. It’s a situation which still occurs across international borders and the end of the film exhibits a much desired catharsis for sympathetic minds. A more current and equally dark depiction of the female experience in modern relationships is exhibited in I Thought the World Had Come to an End (awarded Best Experimental Short at the London Independent Film Awards). The film focuses on the objectification of women in a storyline that could easily take place anywhere in the world.
Oblivion delves into the despair one man feels as a result of the hardships of his personal relationship and sexuality. While most certainly not ubiquitous, the situation is not uncommon. As the main character makes his way down an unalterable course, the film displays the psychological experience that one might undergo. It’s a personal story which is also a metaphor for accepting one’s own decisions and sense of self. Oblivion received the Platinum Award at the European Independent Film Awards.
A much more playful yet biting tone is found in the futuristic Offsprung. While the absurdity of Gina May’s (the protagonist) immaculate conception of a litter of bunnies injects humor into the very beginning of the story, the actions of family members, politicians, the media, and society delivers a statement about the need to impose a sense of right and wrong into the lives of others. Offsprung has become a cult hit with its presentation of the lighter side of the dark side of humanity.
The common thread throughout all of Rain’s films is a striking visual component. Appropriate for a member of her generation, the imagery is a gateway to tapping the emotional environment that surrounds the story. The world’s increased connectivity has created something of a universal visual language to which all people aspire and relate. In using this, a filmmaker such as Zheng is able to create an accessible median to communicate the stories she feels are important and all too often overlooked. This international artist is telling the stories of lives which are found everywhere.