Zheng Nathan Nie
Zheng Nathan Nie

What happens after coming out? That’s what the film Strangers asks. Writer/director Zheng “Nathan” Nie wanted to explore the space where who we “used to be” collides with who we are in present day among the LGBTQ+ community. Filmmakers have embraced the variety of stories that are present in this community and Strangers offers its own unique perspective, presented in the form of dating apps meets former high school adversaries.

This official selection of the Poppy Jasper International Film Festival and others is a prime example of Nathan’s focus on LGBTQ+ issues. Strangers is a deeply insightful story from a filmmaker who understands that there is no single story which represents an entire community.

He relates, “I’ve never liked the idea of being defined as one thing. I’m from China but I’ve been living in the States for fifteen years. I’m part of the BIPOC community as well as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. I care about Asian American topics but also am a longtime tennis fan; I’ve made films about both subjects. My innate defiance against pigeonholing is the driving force behind my eagerness to take on any genre presented to me.”

Nathan is often inspired by the “what if” of a story. As a jury member of various film festivals, he recognizes when a specific topic or perspective hasn’t been covered in a film or television program. Inspired by a real-life story he read online in which a former bully and the bullied connected through a gay dating app but never met, Nathan wanted to explore the possibilities of this interaction if the couple had actually taken the next step and hooked up.

When asked what Strangers wants to relay to an audience, Mr. Nie explains, “It’s a film about the trauma someone of the LGBTQ+ community can carry from the past even though they are able to come out and live in an inclusive environment later. It’s trying to look at the nuances of ‘What happens after coming out?’.  It’s also a discussion on the masculinity issue within the gay community, which is a topic I’m interested in. Neal (one of the film’s two central characters) was bullied partially because of his physical weakness but now he’s tougher and stronger than Jackson (the other main character). This change of power structure and how it plays out in this confrontation was very interesting.”

Shot in April of 2021, Strangers was the first return to professional life for much of the cast and crew of this film. With Covid safety protocols heavily in place, there was an enthusiasm among those involved in the production which was tempered by as awareness that each day was only one positive test away from derailment. That anxiety coupled with determination is subtly palpable in this film.

In the performances of the actors and the temperament of their characters there emanates an uneasiness; a sense of persevering in the face of adversity to be authentic while dealing with a difficult past. With Strangers, Nathan Nie has depicted a very specific set of circumstances but coupled it with feelings that are relatable to all. Neal has suffered for his courage while Jackson’s fear led him to dark places. Where does self-actualization and fear meet to battle for possession of one’s self? Strangers offers its own opinion on this idea. It also leaves as many questions as answers for the audience to consider; the characteristic of any great film. Nathan enjoys the dialogue which film can cultivate.

He comments, “After a long Covid lockdown and stalemate, it was rewarding just to be able to make something and to be on set again. It was special to finally make this story come to life. Also, not only do I like to be part of a conversation, I also would love to add to it. Having been working for film festivals for years, I’ve seen many LGBTQ+ films and I think that the specific topic of Strangers was something unique to add to the conversation. If someone sees the film and feels like it adds a little bit of nuance to the broader LGBTQ+ theme, that’d be very rewarding.”

Writer: Basil Thomson

By Punit