Tall order: 10 minutes, 10 cities, 20 days

By Wang Kaihao ( China Daily ) Updated: 2015-08-13 08:01:19

Big-name foreign directors have brought China into focus since Italian Michelangelo Antonioni's documentary Chung Kuo, Cina forged impressions of the country that have persisted since the 1970s.

Now, it is time for up-and-coming international film students to present China in their eyes.

Six representative short documentaries by foreign students from the Looking China: International Youth Film Project were screened at Beijing Normal University last week.

The university's Academy for the International Communication of Chinese Culture has run the program since 2011 to broaden budding filmmakers' understanding of the country.

The documentaries examine aspects of the country such as food, traditional operas and family structure.

More than 100 students from 20 universities in 19 countries shot 10-minute documentaries for what has become one of China's largest international micro-video events. Each documentary was shot within 20 days.

Ten cities, including Beijing, Qingdao, in Shandong province, and Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province, served as shooting locations. The best productions will win Gold Lens awards next year.

"Someone suggested we invite internationally acclaimed directors to boost our global influence," says the university's professor Huang Huilin, whose Huilin Foundation supports the project.

"I'd rather not. We'll continue to focus solely on young students who are going through a critical period in forming their values and worldviews. We hope their contact with Chinese people will benefit their growth."

She expects the productions will also give Chinese new perspectives on their culture, since they may take for granted many facets elaborated upon in the foreign students' films.

Israeli Maya Meiri's Everlasting Longing, for instance, explores Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) poems' contributions to modern society in Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province, which was then the imperial capital. The city was known as Chang'an during the apex of Chinese poetry, which flourished during one of China's most prosperous dynasties.

"Xi'an is rich in history, but many Chinese find it difficult to tease out fresh angles for examining its glorious past," Liaoning University film professor Geng Zhongyin says.

"A foreign student may be more astute about identifying unique elements of Chinese culture and how these fit into daily life."

Even noodles can provide food for thought.

Corine Tiah, a student from Nanyang Technology University in Singapore, traveled to Lanzhou, capital of Gansu province, to shoot a short documentary on the area's signature beef noodles.

"A bowl of noodles look simple, but it can represent generations' perseverance in a career," she says.

"It also reveals local families' emotional connections. Before I made the film, I'd never considered Chinese culture in that way."

Liu Cong, a producer with China Central Television's English-language channel, says some of the films should be broadcast on Chinese TV.

Barbara Evans, an associate professor of film at York University in Canada, was delighted to lead a team that included students from seven countries to shoot short documentaries in Kaifeng, Henan province.

"Students open themselves up, explore Chinese culture and have their perspectives on Chinese society broadened and transformed," she says.

"It is an irreplaceable experience for them and has built a memory for their lifetime."

Huang hopes the program will have a far-reaching impact.

"The real images that are recorded and based on their firsthand experiences don't merely create a channel for further in-depth cultural exchange," she says.

"When they take these documentaries back home, more types of communication will follow."

And perhaps the next generation's Antonioni will emerge.

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