Bay Area Writer Peter Hsieh debuts his feature film at Cinequest festival

Cinequest will be featuring over 950 films at a virtual film festival beginning this Sunday. Among the 154 films making a premiere this year will be ‘Drive All Night’ by local Bay Area writer and director Peter Hsieh.

“I’ve been writing and directing plays for 11 years ‘Drive All Night’ is my first feature film,” Hsieh said.

In a way, making a debut at Cinequest for him is about arriving at full circle. Hsieh grew up in the San Jose/Cupertino area and Cinequest prides itself on being the film fest for the Silicon Valley.

Beginning his playwriting during his senior year at University of California at Irvine, Hsieh has collaborated with theater companies, schools, and festivals across the country.

And that included Hollywood Fringe, NOLA Fringe, San Jose Rep’s Emerging Artist Lab, City Lights Theater Company, Asian American Theatre Company, Piney Fork, Revolution Theater, Drowning in Blue, San Francisco Olympians Festival, San Francisco Theater Pub, Gi60, Detroit Fringe Festival, AbbieFest, Fine Arts Association of Ohio, Stage Left, New York University, Brooklyn College, his University of California at Irvine and more.

Notable achievements include his play ‘Tangerina’ which was a finalist for the 2015 Orange County New Play Festival, ‘A Room with Modern Furniture’ which won 3rd place at Playwrights CageMatch 2013 at Douglas Morrisson Theater, and his play ‘Interstate’ which had a sold-out run Off-Off Broadway at T. Schreiber Studio Theater.

Most recently Hsieh’s play ‘Interval Impulse’ was a finalist for Nylon Fusion Collective’s Best of TROU award alongside academy award winning screenwriter and playwright John Patrick Shanley and National Play Award Winner Don Nigro.

While Hsieh is honored, especially in having the opportunity for filmmaking, writing for the stage as he sees it has few barriers.

“I like storytelling, said Hsieh and for me writing plays is the way to do it. Film is more visual and relies upon film editing, whereas the chemistry on stage is live and relies upon the actors and they rely upon the script.”

Hsieh writes daily for at least 45 minutes. And he simply writes, unleashing his thoughts, both conscious and unconscious. He describes his most enjoyable work as surreal. “I’ve done dramas and comedies in various styles. Yet breaking away from the traditional narrative structure using surrealism makes the journey unique.” Surrealism in film has a tradition all its own.

Courting the muses as it were in surreal form, Hsieh is diligent in editing and rewriting. “I don’t release it to my actors until I’ve done at least seven or eight drafts,” he added. And once the actors take the script to heart, to then express to an audience, it’s rewarding.

“I like to give an audience pieces of a puzzle and let them be engaged in putting the pieces together,” Hsieh said.

One of Hsieh’s influences has been renowned film director David Lynch. Famous for his surreal style in movies like ‘Blue Velvet’ and the groundbreaking TV series ‘Twin Peaks’ Lynch has repeatedly made an impact. He has been noted in interviews, “I don’t explain my work.” For Lynch to analyze and talk about art is to “reduce it” saying to The Guardian back in 2018 that such discussion “makes it smaller.”

Even though Hsieh says he prefers stage work, those people he has worked with over the years like Sunil Patel are not surprised by his venture into filmmaking.

“It makes sense to me because Peter has a cinematic mind, said Patel. I’ve known Peter for seven years since 2013. I can see the influences in his work like that of David Lynch.”

Technically, ‘Drive All Night’ is my second screenplay, Hsieh clarified. But definitely my first feature film. And while I like writing for the stage, said Hsieh working with film people I enjoy more than theater folks.”

Regardless of the medium be it on stage or in film, Both Patel and fellow actor Will Springhorn, Jr. enjoy working with Hsieh. They both treasure the experience.

“Peter is the nicest man to work with, said Springhorn. He enjoys working with everyone.”

Yet as he and Patel both emphasized Hsieh is very organized and super-turbocharged with energy and enthusiasm when it comes to working.

“Peter tells very complicated stories,” said Springhorn. He respects Hsieh’s use of surrealism even when Springhorn doesn’t quite get all of the pieces Hsieh is handing the audience through the actors.

“Peter’s the one with the story to tell and he’s very talented. Yet he doesn’t let it go to his head, said Springhorn. Peter is a good human being and working with him is a dream. He understands the importance of quality storytelling. And, that’s rare in today’s world in this industry.”

‘Drive All Night’ follows Dave (Yutaka Takeuchi), a reclusive swing-shift taxi driver, whose night takes an unexpected turn after he picks up a mysterious passenger, Cara (Lexy Hammonds), a young woman hiding a dark secret.

As she makes him drive through the city on a series of bizarre excursions, things get increasingly more surreal the further into the night they go. Sarah Dumont (‘Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse,’ & ‘The Royals’) plays Morgan, a sympathetic waitress who works at a diner that Dave often frequents. While from these excursions, appears Lenny, portrayed by Johnny Gilligan as an obsessive hitman guided by strange visions. Lenny pursues our protagonists through the night.

“I’m eager to do more screenplays and films,” said Hsieh. He hopes this first feature film is well received.

Cinequest begins Sunday March 20 and continues until March 30. Tickets for ‘Drive All Night’ at Cinequest’s virtual screening room are on sale now at the Cinequest website.

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