Students travel abroad to produce documentaries in China

Each summer since 2010, Professor Wiemen Zhang and a group of students spend three and a half weeks abroad, creating short documentaries about the locals. This past summer, 15 students went to China and created four different documentaries.

The trip is a study abroad course offered by the cinema department, but the students don’t spend time in a classroom. The first week of the trip is used for groups to conduct research. The second is spent on production, and the final is post-production. 

According to Zhang, the films usually address social issues afflicting the region that the course is being held in. One of the documentaries students produced this year is about a group of unknown surfers on Taiwan’s Kinmen Islands.

During filming, Wang Xiang waxes his board, waiting for his fellow surfers to arrive on Kinmen Island in Taiwan. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Fields)

The class took place in China’s Fujian province this past summer. Xiamen University offered to host the students, providing language and cultural assistance over the course of the trip.

“I believe it is an invaluable experience for a student to have this cross culture experience,” said Zhang, the program’s organizer. “And through documentary filmmaking, to explore and examine different culture’s society.”

Fourth year student Stephanie Fields was one of the people who worked on this film. Fields has been traveling her entire life, but the trip to China was her first time visiting Asia. After she graduates, she wants to work on post-production sound and help filmmakers’ dreams come true.

“The inspiration of our documentary were the people that we filmed,” Fields said. “This group of surfers have such a supportive and happy culture. These surfers welcomed us with open arms and surf boards, happy to share their story with us.”

According to Fields, her favorite part of creating the documentary was her team. She recommends the course to other students, but warns that they should remember that the trip isn’t a vacation.

There will be a screening of the documentaries on Tuesday, Sept. 24, at 6:30 p.m. in the Coppola Theater. The screening is free and open to the public.