Interview with Filmmaker Zhiheo Deng (BLOSSOM IN SILENCE)

BLOSSOM IN SILENCE was the winner of BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY at the Aug. 2022 DOCUMENTARY Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

Blossom in silence is the conclusion of my 2 years journey of rebuilding the foundations of my life.

In my freshman year, an outdoor incident made me really think about death for the first time. Then I begin to feel the meaninglessness of life, and it all broke after I was in the 3rd year. At that time I began practicing meditation and got to know some completely new thoughts. I planned 2 years of recovery: No work, no school, just exploring. Because I need to set a tune for my next 20 years of life. After graduation, I began my most ambitious project: rebuilding my entire philosophy system, from the world view to methodology. To be exact, I found extreme sports very helpful in personal transformation. The risk is such a great tool, a magnification glass to your mind, to know yourself, even the slightest problem will show up when you are one mistake away from falling off the rope to certain death. I was mostly climbing and caving at the time and I want to make a film to express my findings.

As mentioned in my director’s statement, having watched so many outdoor films and documentaries, I got a little bored and want to make something different. I don’t want to show only the adrenaline side of extreme sports, because it’s just not the reality. A lot of people do extreme sports for the calm aspect of it, including myself. I had a desire to express this feeling in a film, and I am completely on my own, so I have the maxim of creative freedom.

After my alpinist film project was delayed, again and again, I met Laura in the cave rigging operator class. Her life isn’t the shiny, successful kind, but I found it rather beautiful. After visiting her house, I felt she is so special and worth a movie. That night I was shivering with excitement and canceled my train ticket, and stayed for one more week to make the film. I want to show my friends what can happen if you don’t follow what society told you to do: you can still find a fulfilling but very different life.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

6 days of shooting and 4 months in post, at least 400 hours of editing. For the first 3 months, I was figuring out the storyline from a mess of footage and 4 hours of interviews which didn’t go in the right direction. During the final month, I was editing all day, smoothing out every little bump in the cut, at some point, it stopped being fun. This film was originally my side project or capstone to my main project, I originally planned to finish it quickly, like 2 weeks. However, after the main one was delayed, this became my only project of the year, thus a serious project.

3. How would you describe your film in two words

obscure, unorthodox

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

It was my first time editing this amount of a film, before that I only did projects 4 minutes long. I had to figure out the entire workflow. Also, the aim changed during the course of editing, and there were some problems left because of the change. Like the pace is a little bit fast because I was aiming at a youtube release, the copyright was also only for youtube and I had to fix those scary problems later. I didn’t expect the film to perform this well. 40 percent selection rate on Film Freeway! That’s crazy.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

It’s a very strange feeling to see other people comment on a film and in the meantime think the film was made by yourself. Those audiences are highly educated, this kind of resonate is the highest reward a filmmaker can get.

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

Firstly I was making DIY aerial filming drones because I am an engineering student and I love flying things. It draw me into video making and then I got a sponsorship with DJI. I was combining my passion for the outdoors and filmmaking. By that time I didn’t have a fanbase, I was getting the contract purely based After I have done the secret pre-launch product review, they wanted me to be a Youtuber-like figure. At that time I was facing a decision between optimizing for views or pursuing the art unhindered. I decided to make art.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

I don’t know, I usually watch movies only once, at most twice. But I would like to say that my life story is beyond any movie plot. I feel deeply grateful.

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

Filmmaker party! The joy of talking to people with the same deep passion and resonating with strangers is just euphoria.

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

It’s great. What else can I say?

10. What is your favorite meal?

Poke, or rice noodle.

11. What is next for you? A new film?

I am planning to make one film per 1 to 2 years in my working as a software engineer. I have mentioned the delayed big project, that depends on when my friend is going to climb his mountain. It’s going to dive deeper into human psychology, self-esteem, and the spiritual aspect of extreme sports. The story so far is already heartbreaking.

Also, I just get my scuba diving license and freediving certificate. I wanted to freedive for a long time because people say it’s meditative. In the future I might do films about the sport.

Director Biography – Zhihao Deng
I have two careers – engineer and filmmaker.
Currently I am an Electronic Engineering and Computer Science graduate student at UC Berkeley. Before Berkeley, I spent 2 years making documentary films, celebrating human spirits in extreme sports: Caving and climbing. Before that, I was a DJI sponsored filmmaker and technical writer.

Director Statement
There are plenty of films about the coolness of extreme sports. However, I want to focus on the reasons behind it. This film is about caving but more about how to be a modern hermit. It’s made for young people who are wondering about their place in this over-competitive society. I want to inspire them: it’s okay to step out of what the society tells you.


By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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