The Distance Between Us: 我們之間的距離
The Distance Between Us
Accompanied by his father and equipped with filming gear, a grandson travels to his homeland in China to capture what would be his final moments with his grandmother. The Distance Between Us is a glimpse into the last memory of a family grappling with Alzheimer’s disease.
Director Biography - Jeffrey Wu
Jeffrey Wu is a filmmaker based in Los Angeles and New York specializing in personal documentary and new media content creation.
His interest in the moving image began at an early age of thirteen when he began(?) to cut together clips of Japanese animated shows with 90s American hip-hop music. By blending the two montage style, he created what the internet at the time called anime music videos. The outlandish editing style through heavy use of juxtaposition and visual effects continues to persist in his work today.
In high school, he picked up a camera and began working for the school's news broadcast. It was here where he learned how media could be a way to not only entertain, but to unify. By creating content and telling stories that everyone within that community shared in, he realized that media could be a strong cohesive force for the community. This idea flourished in the new media space as he continued to work for Asian-American-Pacific-Islanders (AAPI) content creators like 88 RIsing(yas), Generasian, The Fung Brothers, and A / P / A Institute.
Today, he splits his time at PHOENIX TELEVISION where he continually engages with his Chinese roots through travel documentaries and POPeye Media where he expands his curiosity of other cultures through the lens of music.
Mental health is a difficult topic for Asian communities and my family is no exception. Even though dementia is an increasingly relevant issue with the rapidly aging population in China, it’s often avoided for a myriad of reasons—shame and miseducation being some of the more prominent ones.
Around October of 2015, I made a trip to Beijing with my dad. My grandma’s dementia was worsening and my family was having a hard time adjusting. She didn’t recognize extended family or my dad, but she somehow still remembered me. Knowing that opportunities to communicate with my grandma were going to happen less and less, I decided to film bits and pieces of the week I was there.
While The Distance Between Us focuses on my family’s struggle of understanding Alzheimer’s, the documentary became a great chance for me to explore my own feelings as the only family member born outside of China. What role did I play as the American grandson? What more could I have done to help? How does my family maintain relationships when the distance seems insurmountable?
Unknowingly, exploring how my family was changing when my Grandma had Alzheimer also allowed me to dive deep into my identity as an Asian-American. The ever-tipping balance of a dual-cultural identity formalizes in language, in expression, and in distance.
This film is also an opportunity to reflect on my grandmother’s life, her impact on me, and the role she played in raising me. My grandmother was the best person I knew—she was an amazing cook, a track star, a librarian and she did it all living through some of the hardest times in China. She showed me what unconditional love was and would have, and has done, anything and everything for me. She used to walk to my elementary school everyday to deliver her home-cooked fried rice. She’d sit and play piano with me when I didn’t want to practice. As a baby, she’d rock me for so long to sleep that she would have bruises on her arms in the morning (I was a heavy baby).
During the week after her passing, I had a lot of time to think about our relationship; who she was, what she meant to me, and how much I loved her. I sat in her room with my mom looking at old leather bound photo albums and letters. Without my knowledge, she had a photo album for almost every year of my life up until she had to leave the United States. She left a room full of memories.
It was only recently that I realized recorded in this small video was the last time I saw her—the last time I got to grip her hand and the last time we sang songs together on the couch in the living room. Watching this sometimes makes me feel like I’m staring at a ghost. Encapsulated in this film is my grandma—her likelihood, her image, her laughing, and her breathing. It doesn’t seem real.
To continue the type of healing and awareness-raising that The Distance Between Us is capable of, I’ve partnered with Le Zhi, a Beijing-based Alzheimer healthcare innovator and advocacy group, to help shed light on the issue through screenings of The Distance Between Us in major cities like Shanghai and Beijing. We hope the candid and intimate look into a real Chinese family dealing with Alzheimer’s will unveil and help demystify what is really happening with dementia in China today.
It is an honour to review this film.
Grandparents often share photographed moments as memories through images as gentle reminders from the heart. We grandchildren do so in respectful silence as we acknowledge these gentle reminders although they may not be technologically equipped at times. Especially when they coyly decipher fake news at the dinner table. Such is the intergenerational crossover: digital dementia is on the rise alongside an ageing population in countries such as China, Singapore and Japan. As such, an increase in viewership for this short would be well deserved.
Late night notifications, a gentle reminder of home.
It is natural for a young Asian such as 吴家晖, to pair this aspect of home and the loss of home in this film. Although the family members are present within the same house when this was shot, Grandma is not entirely. Mental illnesses, unseen to the eye, emptiness, another.
The early morning greeting, and late night goodbyes, will all become a distant memory.
Photography and reminiscence |
The film starts with blank visual chatter in the background; we are greeted with an introduction with this gesture of photo sharing and reuniting with family. This is a strategic move on 家晖’s artistic direction, elevating the poignancy of intended relationships when the gesture is made.
The desire to seek solace in understanding place and belonging is like that of graduate Fayth Foo’s Final Year Project showcased at DECK where her portfolio sought to discover and uncover her Hakka roots. Similarly, 吴家晖 does so in his 4-day trip elevating the importance of bridging understanding between the two generations.
6,248 Miles: 我們之間的距離 was extremely stunning and heartfelt.