US student films view China with a fresh perspective

Updated: 2012-07-31 19:32

By Xu Lin (

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Mark Bradley Kitay, 20, a sophomore from Emory University's Goizueta business school in the United States, never expected he would come to Beijing to shoot a short film about the city.

"It's my first time in China. Beijing is so magnificent. It's old due to its long history, but so much in Beijing is new and on the rise. Both sides create one city," he says.

Kitay is one of 10 US students taking part in the 2012 Looking Beijing — Chinese and American Youth Summer Digital Video Project.

From July 9 to 21, 10 students and graduates from Boston and Emory universities cooperated with 10 students from Beijing Normal University's school of art and communication on 10 digital videos about Beijing.

The 10 short films premiered on July 22 in the capital. The subject matter took in both traditional aspects of Chinese culture such as tea ceremonies, tai chi, food and acrobatics, and issues common in modern life across the globe, such as coffee and bottled water.

The Academy for International Communication of Chinese Culture at the Beijing Normal University started the annual project in 2011 with the aim of presenting Chinese culture from an American perspective.

Kitay's 10-minute production, entitled Bottled Beijing, is about how water bottles are recycled and how they affect the lives of bottle collectors and other people.

"I want to track the life cycle of the bottle and shoot it from various perspectives, including vendors and those who collect bottles on the street," says Kitay, who arrived in Beijing on June 1, as part of Emory University's one-month program to learn Chinese language and culture. He then participated in the Looking Beijing program.

"I drink tap water in the United States. But I notice instantly it's different in China. These little white bottles to hold tea, coffee or water are everywhere," he says.

According to Kitay, the way the bottles are recycled in China is different from the United States, where households and companies pay for trash and recycling. However, in China, many people are recycling and capitalizing on all valuable materials.

"It's the first time I've held a camera. I'm very excited. I want to thank my Chinese partner Lu Wenying as I've learned a lot about Chinese culture and shooting video from her," says Kitay, who has acted in videos for the campus movie festival in the past but never shot one.

Lu and Kitay filmed their project at Beijing's iconic venues, such as Tiananmen Square, the National Stadium and the Temple of Heaven.

"I think the bottle collectors are helping keep the streets clean, but some may think they are just people going through trash. I want to remain true to their lives but represent the positive view that I have of what they do," Kitay says.

"It's a bit rough for me because I'm not a film major. But Lu makes it better as she tells me various things about Chinese culture and filming shooting and editing skills. I'm really eager to learn," he says.

Lu, 21, a junior student from Beijing Normal University said Kitay's topic is unique and well-thought out. His first topic was mianzi, meaning "face", but they changed their topic when they realized their first idea would be too difficult to shoot.

"Our views about editing are different. I want to display it in a linear way, one person drinks the water, and the bottle starts its journey. But he likes to mix all materials together," Lu says.

Lu said like Kitay, she had never thought she would ever visit a Beijing recycling plant.

Lu says there are different places for wood, bottles and cardboard at the recycling plant, as well as there being many dogs and trucks. Workers classify the bottles into different categories, such as pop-top cans and plastic ones.

"Thanks to him, I have observed something about China that I had never noticed," Lu says.

Wang Jingxin, 19, a freshman at Beijing Normal University, agrees.

"I've learned a lot, too. I had never spent so much time in a traditional Chinese restaurant observing our customs. The restaurant owner happens to be a master of filming, and taught us many skills," says Wang, producer of another short film, The Beauty of Food.

The video is about traditional Beiijng food in Uncle Jia's Luzhu Restaurant in Qianmen the food includes Luzhu huoshao, a bean-paste stew of pieces of huoshao or dough dumplings, beancurd puffs and stewed lungs.

"I hope the audience understands the history of the restaurant and why the owner wants to hold onto a traditional restaurant when China has become so modern," says director Scott Rosenkrantz, 20. Rosenkrantz recently completed his film and television degree from the College of Communication at Boston University.

"It's about my attempt as a foreigner to look into the local eating customs, how the food is prepared, and make some comparisons between the local residents and foreigners," he says.

Rosenkrantz said the food brings different people together and the restaurant becomes a meeting point for western and eastern cultures.

"It's difficult for me to grasp the details due to my little knowledge about Beijing's eating culture. If I had more time, I would have done better," he says.

"When I was first filming I would miss a moment like a chef smiling, or waiters talking because I was too slow to set up the tripod or ask Wang to ask the customers' permission to shoot them," he says.

"It's difficult to balance between being respectful and trying to capture people in a natural state. It's a cultural difference because in New York, one has to ask others before shooting," he says.

Rosenkrantz's partner Wang said he has learnt from the project.

"We respect each other very much. It's a rare experience to co-produce a video with a foreigner. My oral English has improved greatly, too," Wang says.

Rosenkrantz said Beijing is amazing, and he is honored to be here to learn its history. Wang gives him valuable suggestions about how to shoot and edit the video.

Huang Huilin, dean of the Academy for International Communication of Chinese Culture said the students have done a great job.

"It's important to achieve mutual understanding and respect humanity and cultural communications," Huilin says. "Looking Beijing will be our brand name when we try to promote culture in a modern way. Videos are both direct and simple."