Toronto International Film Festival 2020
Short Cuts
Renee Zhan

O Black Hole!

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A woman who can’t stand the passing of time turns herself into a black hole. A thousand years pass without any changes, until one day the Singularity wakes inside her. An immovable woman meets an unstoppable girl in this epic 2D stop-motion opera about the beauty of transience and letting go.

Hi Renee thank you for talking to TNC, how are you held up during these very strange times? 

Hi, thanks so much for having me! 

It’s been strange for sure. I graduated from the NFTS in February, right before the pandemic hit. In many ways I feel lucky to have finished beforehand, but it certainly has been strange to be spit out straight into this new world. 

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?

I’ve been feeling a little homesick during this time. (I’m originally from Texas and living now in London) which has sort of directed me toward my next project. I’m writing a live-action/animation horror feature about a Chinese-American violinist growing up in Texas.

Your latest short film O Black Hole! is part of TIFF Short Cuts, what does it mean to you to have your film a part of such an amazing line up of short films?

It’s a huge honour to be part of TIFF Short Cuts and I’m really grateful to Jason and Lisa for welcoming me back into the TIFF family!

O Black Hole was recently nominated for a Student Award at BAFTA/LA and Golden Pardino - Leopards of Tomorrow at Locarno Film Festival, as a filmmaker does being nominated for such accolades add any additional pressure on you?

I put a lot of pressure on myself already, so actually these sorts of nominations are very validating and tend to make me feel like I’m heading in the right direction. I try not to be too invested in awards though, and if anything I find it more rewarding just hearing strangers’ responses to the film.

Can you tell me a little bit about O Black Hole, what was the inspiration behind this film? 

O Black Hole! started from this image I was drawing a couple of years ago, of a woman with a large dark smudge where her head should be. I started trying to figure out why I was drawing her and figuring out what her story was, and that’s how O Black Hole! began.

"Animation has so much potential to tell big stories, strange stories, ugly stories, beautiful stories." 

What was the most challenging part of making this film for you?

This film was my first stop-motion endeavour and that was HARD. Puppets kept falling over. Lights kept falling over. That stuff never happens when I’m drawing.

On your website you say you make 'ugly films about beautiful things', what do you mean by this?

Animation is sort of pigeon-holed as a medium for children or for cute little films. I’m really uninterested in both. Animation has so much potential to tell big stories, strange stories, ugly stories, beautiful stories. I guess that’s what I mean. 

Once a film is complete are you able to let it live its own life or are you always thinking 'I could/should have done this differently?

The entire time I’m making a film, I’m just wracked with guilt, wanting to redo shots, thinking and rethinking every little decision. But once it’s finished I just want to move on the next thing! 

As a graduate of NFTS how much did this experiences help to shape your development as a filmmaker?

The best part of NFTS was the talented team I was able to work with. 

Before making this film, I never thought I’d want or be able to direct a team. I was perfectly happy making films mostly on my own. I became an animator in the first place because I didn’t want to talk to people. 

However, I’ve seen that not only are the possibilities so much greater when working with other talented people, but making a film together is also more fun! I hope I’ll get to keep working with my NFTS team many times in the future.

Is there any advice you would offer anyone about to start film school?

If it’s a masters, I’d say don’t go straight after college. I think having some life experience is the best tool for making films. 

What would you say has been the most valuable lesson you've taken away from making O Black Hole?

I’ve learned that it’s really important to try to enjoy the process of making a film. 

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this film?

For me, the film is about the fear and beauty of transience and the horror of things changing and leaving, but many people who’ve seen it take away different things from it. I like that about the film, I like that people find their own meaning in it. Some people find no meaning at all! And that’s great too.

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