A critical engineer: Yuanchen Zhang (24) wins the video-contest of the Munich Science Days ("Münchner Wissenschaftstage") with his film "Das Netz". He is from Jinhua in China and a master’s student of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology at TUM. TUMstudinews reporter Verena Pongratz met up with him.
You are from China. How come you are now at TUM – and how do you like it here?
Zhang: I studied "Electrical Engineering and Information Technology" in China and took part in an exchange program with the partner university in Hanover four years ago. There, I finished my Bachelor thesis and then moved to Munich exactly one year ago. I am very content. And I am glad about the fact that there is more free time alongside the master’s studies than I had during my bachelor’s studies.
When did you start making films?
Zhang: Movies have accompanied me since my childhood. At first, I just really liked to watch them. I started making my own small-scale films when I was 19, mostly about my travels or about the city. I already participated in a video-contest organized by the DAAD once, but that was just for fun and not to be compared with the contest of the Munich Science Days.
How did your video "Das Netz" evolve?
Zhang: This film is my first to have a real plot. I made it especially for the contest. The idea came to me during the summer holidays. I worked on the film every weekend from August to September and finished it in early October.
What’s the message you wanted to get across?
Zhang: It's about how technology changes the world, which I had some critical thoughts about. The film is set in the future. It shows what it could be like to cook a piece of beef some day. The film’s message is that you should stay in personal contact with your fellow human beings. In my film, I tried to find a humorous approach to the issue.
Was the shooting of the film very effortful?
Zhang: I shot the whole video using the built-in camera of my mobile phone and then edited on my laptop computer. I had to think about some of the scenes for a while. Also, it took quite a while to shoot them. My girlfriend helped me a lot.
How come you are so critical about technology, being an engineer?
Zhang: Of course, technology is very important. But I also think that the fun side of it tends to fall short. Technology should be seen more as a tool, not as one of life’s most important issues. The film’s title "Das Netz" is ambivalent. I’m thinking of the Internet and the chain-link fence that you can see at the beginning and at the end of the film: a fence with a piece of wood stuck in it.
…wood that has grown into the fence.
Zhang: The initial image seems to show that the tree has just grown into the fence perfectly well, but the final image shows that it is actually already dead, with only a small part of it stuck in the fence. This is meant to represent the people and the fact that we have so little control over the Internet, even if the outward impression implies the contrary. Our happiness should not be dependent on technology, but one’s own self. Of course, I sometimes use the Internet all day long too and forget what I would really like to do.
So, what do you like to do in your leisure time?
Zhang: Reading, swimming and jogging for example. I like to travel – especially to visit film festivals. I went to the Berlinale twice. I would love to make a movie that is shown at the Berlinale. This is very hard to achieve, of course, but it would be a dream.
Where do you see yourself in a few years time? Are you going to return to China and in which direction will you go in life?
Zhang: I still have one semester and my final thesis in front of me. I would really like to stay in Germany, but I would also be prepared to go back to China if I can’t find anything here. Professionally, I will try to stick to my course of studies. I don’t have a clear goal yet. I will continue to make films, but rather as a hobby.