2 Local Bai Ethnicity High School Students from Xizhou
1 Documentary Film: “The Soul of the Bai”
1 All American High School Film Festival in New York City
6 Days of Memories for a Lifetime
On Wednesday afternoon in October (the 3rd to be exact), Xiao Juan Yang & Pei Jie Yang, two high school students from Xizhou, stepped off a plane and found themselves in New York City. Prior to embarking on the 15 hour flight, the farthest they had ever traveled was to their neighboring province, Sichuan. The students were in New York to attend the 2018 All American High School Film Festival, where their short documentary film, “The Soul of the Bai,” was to be screened at the AMC Theater in Times Square.
The previous winter, the students had attended the Linden Centre’s pilot Youth Film Workshop. During the workshop students from around China as well as local Dali students came together to participate in a week-long crash course in documentary filmmaking. “The Soul of The Bai” paints a portrait of three Bai locals of different generations in Dali. The film tells their stories within the framework of the traditional tie-dye handiwork and its relationship to the Bai identity. “The Soul of The Bai” was made by three high school students from Yunnan: Xiaojuan Yang, Pei Jie Yang and Henry Tian, and who were instructed by the German filmmaker Daniel Che Herman. Henry is from the AEUA International Academy Kunming and the two girls are from local Wutai high school in Xizhou.
When producing the film, Xiaojuan was responsible for interviewing film subjects, while Peijie did much of the sound recording; both of them also participated in the final editing. They came up with the idea of shooting the tie-dye art of the Bai people as a way to learn their own culture. As the filming progressed, they gradually realized that younger generation of Bai people have a lack of cultural awareness. They want to encourage young generations to explore their cultural heritage and take more action to inherit and pass on their own culture.
It was a whirlwind of a week for Xiao Juan & Pei Jie; they met with Columbia graduate students, toured New York, and walked the red carpet. Here are some of the highlights:
Day 1: Leaving China
When asked to share their hopes for the trip, Xiao Juan said “I hope that in bringing this film over, we will gain people’s appreciation for our Bai minority group and culture.” The greatest concern, on the other hand, was a fear of inability to communicate in English.
Day 2: Arrival & First Impressions
On the first day, students arrived at JFK airport and immediately traveled to their home base for the week – the Hyatt in Secaucus. In this first afternoon, students gained their first exposure to American suburban life — Walmart, and “American” food — Chipotle. They were amazed by the scale of Walmart and the diversity of products offered. Meanwhile, Chipotle was less of a hit with Xiaojuan, who found strong American food flavors hard to adapt to right off the bat.
Day 3: Brooklyn & Columbia University
Day 3 began with a scenic ferry ride to Brooklyn to meet Joan Grossman, an independent filmmaker and instructor at this summer’s Middlebury School of the Environment program at the Linden Centre. While at the Linden Centre, Joan held a “48 Hour Film Workshop” where Middlebury students and Dali residents came together to spend a weekend making artistic short films based on prompts assigned by Joan, like “yellow, vehicles.” Joan was excited to meet the students, and graciously showed us around her Brooklyn neighborhood.After chowing down on the ultimate American food – Shake Shack hamburgers, the students interviewed Joan about her experiences in filmmaking & editing. Pei Jie asked “in doing media work, what is the most exciting thing that has happened [to you]?” Joan replied: “every single project is like an adventure, you get to learn something about people and places, understand ways of thinking, ways of living and stories. It’s always new, every single experience is actually an adventure, that’s how I look at it.”
Xiao Juan, meanwhile was more interested in how Joan deals with the tiresome task of film editing. Joan replied: “You know, I have to say, I love editing. So, when I’m editing, I often feel like I get into a zone. So I feel like, sometimes when I’m editing, I lose track of time completely, and I actually enjoy it very much.”
After our lovely morning in Brooklyn, we rushed uptown to Columbia University’s Teacher’s College to meet Dr. Henan Cheng, a professor teaching a course on international education with special focus on China. Several students from her class, most of whom were Chinese international students themselves, warmly greeted the high schoolers and were eager to ask them questions about their educational experiences in rural China.
The students came away from the discussion feeling encouraged by seeing Chinese peers studying at such a prestigious school in America. Dr. Cheng and her students, likewise, offered encouraging messages for the students, even saying “at your age I had never even left the country! You’re already doing so well.”
After the discussion Dr. Cheng kindly took us on a tour of Teacher’s College as well as Columbia’s campus before we parted ways.
Day 4: Touring NYC, Opening Night
Day 4 began with a quick photoshoot in Times Square with Xiao Juan, Pei Jie, and Matt all donning their Bai minority best. The goal was to capture the stark contrast of the students from a small town in rural China in the big, modern, and Western city. At the same time; however, although the girls did get some looks, most New Yorkers didn’t bat an eye. Perhaps it’s because Halloween was fast approaching and people with costumes could be found all around the city; or, as Xiao Juan surmised, it might be because New Yorkers themselves have some crazy, unique clothing styles.
After the impromptu photoshoot, we headed downtown to Washington Square Park to meet up with other attendees of the All American High School Film Festival for a guided photo walk. Here’s a good point for me to introduce a little background on the festival:
Photo provided by the All American High School Film Festival
The All American High School Film Festival (AAHSFF) is the world’s largest high school film festival. The festival experience features a wide range of screenings, panels, workshops, and information fairs providing young filmmakers a stage to showcase their talent, and gain the resources they need.
This year, more than 2,000 student films from over 40 countries and regions were submitted, and only those under “Official Selections” were screened at the AMC Empire 25 Theater in Times Square, New York. As an Official Selection, films were eligible to win a Teen Indie Award and more than $400,000 in prizes.
For the photo walk, students were tasked with taking pictures of things that caught their interest in the park, and ultimately choose one that they felt told a story. That day the park was busting with live music performers, a unicycling juggler, kids blowing giant bubbles, and artists everywhere.
The evening concluded with the Opening Night Party of the AAHSFF. The event was held in a chic, modern, event space called “Galvanize”; each room filled to the brim with high school students and teachers alike mingling over games of ping pong or giant Jenga. While somewhat overwhelmed by the english-speaking environment, the students were greeted warmly by one of the festival’s founders, Tom Olivia, who thanked the students for traveling all the way from China to attend.
Day 5: AAHSFF Day 1
The first day of the Film Festival began at the AMC 25 in Times Square with screenings & a tech fair. Before their film was screened at 11:20, the students recruited a few kind festival-goers to offer their thoughts after watching “The Soul of the Bai.” Post-film interviewees included Hilerre Kirsch a teacher from New Trier High School and Jack, Dana, and Jason, a family from Washington who attended the film festival because of their son’s interest in pursuing filmmaking.
When asked if she had a message for the film subjects, Ms. Kirsch said:
“Please keep doing what you’re doing, your traditions are beautiful and they need to preserved, and I hope more of you will maybe go off and come back to your hometown to sustain those beautiful cultural traditions; they’re very meaningful. They moved me and I’m about as far removed from Yunnan as you can be!” The students also had the opportunity to interview Tom Olivia, who kindly took the time from his busy schedule to share his message for future Chinese high school filmmakers: “The films that we’ve received from China over the years, they may not be a lot yet, but they’re inspirational. They’re a totally different experience than what any of the students we see here in the states are going through, and I think it’s really important to share that story. Don’t be afraid, submission is free for most of the year; that’s really important to us because we want everyone to be able to participate. Please send your films we promise to judge them, and love them, and celebrate them.”
Day 6: AAHSFF Day 2
The second day of the Film Festival was filled with panels and workshops hosted by industry professionals. The workshops and panels the students attended that day included topics like “how to turn dreams into films” and “diversity in the industry.”
After a busy morning, students went back to their hotel in New Jersey to change for the awards show and film their reflections of the trip thus far.
Photo provided by the All American High School Film Festival
That evening, after spending a good hour stuck in NJ tunnel traffic and taking the subway into Brooklyn, we finally arrived at the All American High School Film Festival Awards at the Kings Theatre. The two girls waited on line to walk down the IMAX red carpet, standing out from peers in their traditional Bai outfits. One teacher even asked if the girls were the “Tibetan team.” Before heading back out to New Jersey, we stopped for a quick late night bite at what can be described as a haven — also known as the only Chinese restaurant around. Before long, we descended back into the stale air of the subway — a scent that the girls never failed to comment on — and began our long journey back into Manhattan.
We parted ways on the train platform at Times Square 42nd street with hugs and promises to meet up for food in Xizhou.
Our Film Workshop:
Each session of our film workshop recruits 12-15 junior and senior high school students who are passionate about social issues and are interested in making movies. The workshop also fully funds 5-6 local students from Dali to participate. Within the context of vast differences in urban and rural educational resources, the Linden Centre hopes that rural students will be given chances to get to know advanced education philosophy, methods, and resources at an early age. We also hope to see engaging dialogues happen between urban and rural students. In addition, including local students in the course is our way of saying thank you to and repaying the local community. The entire film production process has also encouraged young people to start paying attention to local issues and foster cultural awareness and self-confidence.
Our Education Programs:
The film workshop is not the first education program hosted by the Linden Centre. Since 2011, we have been working with leading international schools to develop education programs, such as the “China Fieldwork Semester” with Sidwell Friends in Washington, D.C., and“Microcampus” with Shanghai American School. The Linden Centre’s decision to offer a film workshop is our next step in creating our own signature education project to stand alongside all these amazing collaborative experiences we’ve developed throughout the past decade.
Special thanks to the All American High School Film Festival.