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Can Passion Make a Living?

Date: 10 December 2023

Video camera recording in classroom.

China’s Sundance: A Closer Look at the First International Film Festival

The First International Film Festival, often likened to China’s version of Sundance, holds a prominent position in discovering and nurturing new filmmaking talent. Its Chinese moniker, translating to the First “Youth” Film Festival, is a testament to its dedication to emerging artists in cinema.

However, an interesting discrepancy arises when considering the age demographic of its participants and winners – it doesn’t entirely align with the youthful spirit the festival aims to represent. For instance, at the festival’s 17th edition in August 2023, filmmakers born after the 90s constituted only half of the entries evaluated. Furthermore, the majority of finalists and winners were born in the 80s or early 90s.

In a significant move in 2023, the festival removed the age limit for directors, shifting the focus from age to whether the work presented is the director’s first film. This change in criteria highlights a broader and more inclusive approach to defining a ‘young director’, encouraging more diverse stories and storytellers. However, it also underscores the enduring impact of age in the filmmaking industry, particularly from the perspective of the filmmakers themselves.

The festival, through its evolving criteria for youth, provides a unique perspective on the interplay of age and experience within the Chinese film industry. It serves as a reminder that although talent is ageless, the industry’s conceptualization of youth and emerging talent continues to evolve.

Exploring Career Paths in Film: A Graduate’s Perspective

As a graduate from a film school, I am interested in the experiences and challenges young filmmakers face in the industry. To learn more, I embarked on an extensive research project, gathering data through video interviews with 12 participants, equally divided between graduates from Chinese and American film schools.

My aim is to provide a clear picture of the talent development landscape for young filmmakers in the Chinese film industry. This research isn’t only about understanding their journey; it’s about fostering a dialogue between the industry’s recruiters and budding filmmakers, paving the way for better mutual understanding and alignment in the future.

Professional Planning & Internship Experience

In my exploration of China’s film industry, I’ve realized the critical role of professional planning and internship experiences for film graduates. Career development plans and internships are a necessity for navigating the uncertainties of this industry. My interviews with graduates highlighted that while career planning is essential, it must be adaptable to suit the ever-changing aspirations and realities of the film world. I also found that internships, though vital for skill development and networking, vary greatly in their effectiveness. This disparity is particularly noticeable in smaller film and television companies. There is a great need for more structured career planning and a robust internship system, which could significantly ease the transition for new entrants into this unpredictable field.

Gender Inequity and Censorship

Gender inequity and censorship consistently arose as prominent challenges in my research. Through my findings, it’s clear that cultural beliefs and gender stereotypes still heavily influence career opportunities, especially for women in physically demanding roles. This calls for an urgent need to reshape the industry towards greater gender equality and inclusivity. Censorship, another complex issue, impacts the creative processes and career paths of young filmmakers. The lack of clarity in censorship guidelines often leads to self-censorship, stifling creativity. However, some filmmakers I interviewed see censorship as an impetus for more innovative storytelling. I argue for a shift towards a film rating system, which could offer a middle ground between creative expression and societal norms.

Film Festivals and Young Director Support Programs

Film festivals and young director support programs are crucial avenues for success. They provide emerging filmmakers with exposure, networking opportunities and career advancement. However, their effectiveness varies widely. My research highlights the need for these platforms to evolve, ensuring they remain relevant and effective in nurturing new talent. It’s clear that while such programs are indispensable, they require more strategic resource allocation to truly meet the needs of up-and-coming filmmakers.

My research has unveiled several areas in the Chinese film industry that warrant deeper investigation and discussion. These include the development of more effective professional planning and internship programs, addressing gender inequity and censorship in ways that promote equality and creative freedom, and enhancing film festivals and support programs for budding filmmakers. These insights highlight the ongoing need for adaptation and improvement within the industry, crucial for the growth and success of young filmmakers in this dynamic field.

Title: 2280 Pasos Bajo un Cielo Nublado | Artist: Hernán Jourdan | Medium: Film

When I was asked to create a work of art exploring literacy, I wanted to create a dance but I had no dancers or a studio, so I chose to use my own body in the space I had, my yard. Fluent Nature is video of micro-choreography that explores what cannot be expressed with words, how nature has its own language, and how placing the human body in nature changes the story.

Title: What Is Me and What Is Not Me | Artist: Alex Chadwell | Medium: Music

My thinking on arts and literacy centers around the concept of literacies and artmaking as both sense-making and meaning-making processes that organically and inevitably overlap, intersect, and reciprocate. Compositionally, What is me and what is not me is a sound collage of sorts (there is no notation for the piece, and I'd be hard pressed to recreate it accurately) that abstractly and aurally represents the relationships between literacies and artmaking.

Title: A Curious Honeybee | Artist: Gideon Young | Medium: Film

Offering welcome through traditional and digital elements of literacy, A Curious Honeybee provides an experiential learning environment by activating visual, musical, natural, and emotional literacies.

Title: Tercera Llamada | Artist: Karilú Forshee | Medium: Audio

La Carpa Theatre is a project that I am currently directing in the Detroit Latinx community. The project aims to strengthen and uplift youth voices through devised theatre, in the style of the Mexican Carpas. This audio was created in the theatrical environment envisioned for our project. The ways in which literacies are re-defined are at the heart of La Carpa Theatre's mission.

Title: Literaseas | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite and ink on paper with digital edits

Title: A Riddle | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits

Title: False Binaries | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits