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Counting From Infinity – A film about Yitang Zhang

zhangoldFollowing 2013’s amazing bounded gaps between primes result, mathematician Yitang Zhang has gone from an unknown maths lecturer to a mathematical celebrity. The Mathematical Research Sciences Institute at Berkeley has put together a film telling the story of Zhang’s proof, and his life before and after the announcement.

The film, which was funded by the Simons Foundation, has contributions from a large number of mathematicians, including Daniel Goldston, Kannan Soundararajan, Andrew Granville, Peter Sarnak, Enrico Bombieri, James Maynard (based at Oxford, who did further work to reduce the prime gap following on from Zhang’s), Nicholas Katz, David Eisenbud, Ken Ribet, and Aperiodihero Terry Tao, as well as Zhang himself.

Counting From Infinity features interviews, conversations between groups of mathematicians, and footage of Zhang’s life and workplace. It also includes interviews with his wife, who was as surprised as anyone by her husband’s sudden rise to fame, and his friends and family. Erica Klarreich, mathematician and science writer, narrates the story, and animator Andrea Hale produced 28 animated sequences which are used to support mathematical explanations in the interviews.

George Csicsery, the film’s producer/director, came up with the idea after talking to the director of the MRSI, David Eisenbud. They felt that much of the coverage of the story had focused on the mathematical result, while nobody really knew much about the mysterious character of Zhang himself. The story of his mathematical achievement, along with a flavour of his character and personality, make up the film.

The film’s world premiere took place at the Joint Mathematics Meeting, in San Antonio, Texas on 10th January, and it is hoped that it will be broadcast in the US on PBS. An order form is available on the film’s website to purchase individual copies of the DVD, and licenses for public performance rights. A review of the film has been posted on the Joint Mathematics Meetings blog.

You can watch the trailer here:

More information

Counting from Infinity – Zala Films

4 Responses to “Counting From Infinity – A film about Yitang Zhang”

  1. mark weiss

    Steve and Eric Cohen, twinned sons of Paul J. Cohen, are working on a film about the continuum hypothesis.

  2. mark weiss

    I’m a family friend, of the sons, but I also knew Paul. They started filming, before Paul’s illness presented. They went with him to Austria for Godel@100, and filmed that lecture, which is searchable on Youtube. The boys, although Stanford grads and good in math by most people’s standards, are in the arts, and are Hollywood SAG actors. I would say that they are still mourning Paul and that has prevented them from furthering the film, which starts with a discussion of the math per se but digresses, for instance, to footage of Paul being moved from one part of Stanford Hospital to another, after a surgery. A known filmmaker, and mutual friend Elizabeth Thompson, met with the sons to discuss the dynamics, how much family to intersperse with how much math. They corresponded with David Foster Wallace about whether he would narrate, and he declined.

    Paul was quite a character, and enjoyed music and comedy — he did stand-up in clubs. They are in some ways like the Kaplanskys, whose daughter Lucy is a successful folk-singer. The Cohen estate donated their family piano to the math department, for the fourth floor, at Stanford.

    I would think they would welcome correspondence, encouragement and suggestions, about this film. I sent them the link to Alec Wilkinson’s article in The New Yorker, about Prof. Zhang, and the film.

    If you search my blog, there is more about the Cohens. (Plastic Alto, on wordpress)

  3. Shecky R

    sounds like this project began at least 8 yrs. ago (when Paul & David Foster Wallace were both still alive); is it still being actively pursued? and if so, is there a place on the Web for more info about any ongoing efforts?


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