Huang Huilin, professor emeritus of Beijing Normal University, speaks at the 10th anniversary of the Looking China Youth Film Project in Beijing, on December 18 (COURTESY PHOTO)
The Looking China Youth Film Project carves out a new path for international communication by enhancing the ties between people. Huang Huilin, professor emeritus at Beijing Normal University (BNU), said during the university photo exhibition in Beijing on December 18.
The exhibition, celebrating its 10th anniversary, takes visitors on a short tour of the project's evolution. Since 2011, the university has continually run an annual project inviting foreign filmmakers to visit China, using film to focus on activities that foster understanding and forges bonds. Started by the Huilin Foundation of BNU and the Academy for International Communication for Chinese Culture, the project has grown into a cross-cultural experience program that has already claimed extensive influence both at home and abroad.
Starting from a summer project for the global youth, the project has created a pattern combining online platforms and offline cinemas with universities' efforts, Huang said.
One of the trips in 2019, Looking China Shaanxi: Xi'an, from a Different perspective, was released in May of that year. Consisting of 10 works, it included 11 participants from seven countries, such as Australia, the U.S. and Sri Lanka. Over the course of 17 days, partakers were divided into 10 groups and started filming with the help of local volunteers. Aside from visiting the Qinling Mountains' hinterland in northwest China to illustrate the development of rural areas, they also told stories about local rap culture, the city's poetic charm, and traditional Chinese philosophy.
The budding student directors had already selected topics prior to their arrival in Shaanxi Province in northwest China as well as established channels of online communication with their local producers. "It was clear that producers had conducted some thorough research about the topics presented and several teams already had a solid shooting schedule in place long before the international students had even landed," Helen Gaynor, international supervisor of the trip, told BNU.
In Up in Xi'an, Marco Jens Hulser, director of the film, gave people a lens through which they could explore the young rap scene with its influences stemming from China’s history. His camera zoomed in on and followed three rap hopefuls from Xi'an, with dream of discovering the world through their Chinese rap music.
Visitors look at photos during the exhibition in Beijing on December 18 (COURTESY PHOTO)
Hulser regarded the experience as an adventure. "It was an adventure to travel the whole city by metro, searching for my protagonists; I would never know where I would end up next."
It was kind of challenging and I really enjoyed that entire process of shooting the documentary about the rap scene of Xi'an, he told BNU.
Gaynor said the contemporary music scene in this ancient city was another great discovery. "The musicians, through their lyrics, added a Chinese perspective to these very modern and Western art forms," she said.
Gaynor has participated in the project twice. In 2016, the University of Melbourne teacher traveled to southwest China to tell stories about ethnic groups such as Qiang. "I got to see and experience a side of China that I knew nothing about, and it produced indelible memories and some excellent documentaries."
Over the past decade, the Looking China Youth Film Project, initiated by the Academy for International Communication of Chinese Culture at BNU, has brought together more than 600 young filmmakers from 60 countries and regions, including the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom, to produce 609 short documentaries highlighting Chinese people and culture.
It is an inspired concept to link up film students from all over the world with aspiring Chinese media makers, Gaynor said, adding the immersive experience is more effective than a year of lectures to enhance understanding of China.
The 2020 Looking China Youth Film Project kicked off late September. This year, in spite of major disruptions to the global travel industry due to the raging novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the project managed to attract foreign filmmakers living in China to complete the filming of documentaries or three-minute vlogs across Beijing, Wuhan in central China and Chongqing in southwest China.
In addition, with the assistance of local volunteers in China, 12 foreign filmmakers now living in countries including Canada, India, Russia, and Brazil have also been invited to produce short videos about their understanding of Chinese culture.
Three films saw their first release onto the big screen during the exhibition.