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Cinematographer Zichen Tang talks new award-winning film ‘The Last Lesbian’

Zichen Tang knew from an early age that he wanted to be a filmmaker, but he did not know what role to take. The more he immersed himself in the medium, learning about how to develop a story, shoot the scenes, edit the footage, create the visual effects, the more he began to find a passion in cinematography. He found that filmmaking, at its core, is storytelling, and cinematography is the first basic step in cinematic storytelling.

Now, Zang finds himself at the forefront of his industry, an in-demand and award-winning cinematographer. He has been recognized internationally for his outstanding contributions to many films, including The Somnium and Passé, as well as in his home country of China with his work on the viral video Unspoken Rules of Chinese Gift Giving. No matter the project, he is just happy to be doing what he loves on a daily basis.

“I like cinematography because it’s so expressive. As we say a picture is worth a thousand words, a single shot could also tell a complex story,” said Tang. “Things never go as planned, and that’s what’s charming about filmmaking. We are not only being creative on telling the story, but also on finding a better way to create it.”

The highlight of Tang’s career came last year with his film The Last Lesbian. Not only did it bring him several more awards, but it was an amazing production experience as it allowed him to push the boundaries of his craft and achieve things that he once never thought he was capable of.

“The story was very imaginative and meanwhile, very challenging, which required me to create images that I have never done before. There’s car scene, desert night scene, outer planet scene, car trunk scene, etc. It wasn’t going to be easy, but I liked the feeling of finding out ways to do things no one has done before,” he said.

The film takes place in 2318, where the last lesbian on earth, Susannah, time travels back to 2018 to find a girl, Bella, who can save every LGBTQ person before it is too late. The script was unique not just in its original plot, but also the structure, which showcases several fun scenes and several dramatic ones, connected by creative fantasies. It is one-of-a-kind film.

“It’s the story that gave us all the chance to show off our talents, including the director herself. I felt there are infinite possibilities with the story, even now with the film already finished. We could have done it in a completely different but equally good way,” said Tang.

The director of The Last Lesbian, Jingyu Liu, also directed The Somnium, a previous film of Tang’s that received international critical acclaim. Liu knew from their previous work together that Tang knew how to make a film an outstanding success, and therefore approached the cinematographer to join her team on this new project. Tang read the script and instantly said yes, liking the unusual story and wanting to reunite with a director he worked so well with in the past. On top of this, Tang’s extensive background in visual effects was a tremendous asset, as there were a few VFX shots in the film that he could provide his input.

“One thing I believe about being a good cinematographer is that we are not only creating the image, but more importantly, telling the story. That’s one of the reasons the director likes to work with me. I can give her suggestions about telling the story with images. Most of the shots were designed with my help, since she trusts my vision with where to put the camera,” said Tang.

The Last Lesbian premiered at Folino Theater at Chapman University. It has been an Official Selection at many prestigious international film festivals and is still expected to make its way to several more this year. Tang has already taken home cinematography awards at the European Independent Film Awards and the European Cinematography Awards for his tremendous contributions to the film.

“I feel honored. We enjoyed making the film and we believed in the story, but never aimed to get awards. Like raising children, we want them to be good, to be talented, but we weren’t working hard for them to be famous. But at the same time, we work hard, and everyone deserves the recognition,” he concluded.

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