Academic journal article Millennium Film Journal

HIGHVIEW: An Interview with Simon Liu

Academic journal article Millennium Film Journal

HIGHVIEW: An Interview with Simon Liu

Article excerpt

Highview (2017) is a recent 16mm work by the New York-based filmmaker Simon Liu. It screens as a four projector performance film. Two of the images are projected side by side on the screen with a third image overlapping in the center, and a fourth image projected in cinemascope on top of the other images. A wide field of color and film textures stretches across the screen. Highly abstracted images of Hong Kong gradually come to the fore and again recede into the frenetic field. Some images are street scenes that have been obscured by many layers of filmic noise. Other, more touching and personal images appear more clearly at key points. Drifting and dreamy slow-motion figures surface and sink. The 20-minute runtime flies by.

Highview screened at the 2017 International Film Festival Rotterdam, and at the time of this interview was playing at Hong Kong International Film Festival. I interviewed Simon via phone from Hong Kong, and added some notes to the transcript of our conversation, which appear in brackets below.

Richard Tuohy: I know you from New York but all of the films of yours I've seen were at least shot in Hong Kong. Do you have some connection with Hong Kong?

Simon Liu: Yes, my dad lives in Hong Kong. It's where I grew up and lived until I left to attend University in New York when I was 18. So a lot of my practice revolves around going back to Hong Kong and capturing images of my home, places and people I have been familiar with throughout my life, but noticing nuances and differences. I've realized that when I return somewhere after a long period of time, it's not the dramatic things that stand out, it's the little details. You will go into a building you used to live in and notice that a wall that used to be painted blue is now some cream color. Experiences like that can be quite emotional for me. Something that was familiar and taken for granted has been altered.

RT: Is that what motivates you?

SL: I'm not sure if that is what grabs me overall, but you can notice manifestations of how time has passed, how a space might have changed, or the absence of something that used to be there. There's a certain charge to a place's evolution and I'm trying to articulate that energy on film.

RT: Have you made films like this in New York?

SL: I haven't. Basically the role of New York to me at the moment is in the use of the lab. In Hong Kong, there is no place like Negativland [an artist-run lab started by Josh Lewis in Ridgewood, Queens]. During my limited time back home I feel an urgency to capture a lot of material, shooting on 16mm, but I can't see the results until I'm back in New York, which often leaves me feeling quite tense!

When I shoot, I'll usually shoot a 100 foot roll all the way through, then put it in a changing bag and rewind the entire roll back to the beginning and shoot it again, days or weeks later - often doing that a third time, and sometimes a fourth. I'm not aiming for particular juxtapositions with the multiple exposures. It's about chance and trusting in the gesture of the first pass, then trusting in the gesture of subsequent passes. When I watch a roll back in New York, it feels like reading a forgotten diary entry - I remember the sequence of events on a particular day, and I'm brought back to how I felt during that period. When I shoot, I'm not fully retaining in my memory the thing I just shot. But when I watch it, it immediately brings me back to where I shot it. Geographically, I find that's interesting, given that I only shoot in Hong Kong, and only watch in New York.

RT: Are the rolls a mystery to you until you project them?

SL: Well, I don't make traditional work prints of my negatives. Once the negatives are processed, I just go ahead and project them. It usually takes a moment to understand what I'm looking at. I do a lot of performative actions with the camera, and use a lot of colored light. So I often don't recognize what it was I had shot immediately, until something more concrete becomes apparent. …

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