Among the record 12 University of Hawaiʻi student films screened at the Louis Vuitton Hawaiʻi International Film Festival in October 2008 were three co-produced during the summer with student filmmakers from China’s Shanghai University School of Film and Television Art and Technology.
The films—products of a program dubbed the SMART Exchange, for Student Media Art—were written, produced and directed by the international student teams and shot on location in Shanghai and subtitled in both Chinese and English.
The SMART Exchange put students on both sides of the Pacific at the forefront of co-productions with China.
Originating with UH’s Academy for Creative Media, SMART is the first film program to produce joint U.S.-China student films, notes ACM Chair Thomas Brislin.
The collaboration process was a challenge, albeit fulfilling, participants say.
“Since the students in ACM and Shanghai University have a strong passion for film making, it bonded us when we went to Shanghai,” observes Robert Omura, who directed the film
With Me. “Regardless of the obstacles we knew we were going to have, we all knew it was going to be hard work, but worth it,“ he says. ”To see the final product we were able to create in such a limited amount of time, especially with the language barrier was the most rewarding experience.&rquo;
Language wasn’t the only barrier. “There were also other difficulties, such being in a foreign culture and obtaining certain resources, that made the need for clear communication crucial,” adds Jay Hanamura, editor and director of photography on Birthday Gift.
Even bilingual Ark Mu, who was originally from China but moved to Hawaiʻi in high school, noticed differences when it came to film techniques. ”I grew up watching Chinese films, but learned everything about filmmaking here in the U.S., so I only know the Western filmmaking style,“ she explains. ”When comparing Chinese and American films, the structure is completely different. Chinese filmmakers have different perspectives and classes from the U.S., which was something I had to adapt to.” Mu directed Bamboo Pole in Shanghai and Yamanote Line, another Hawaiʻi International Film Festival offering filmed in Tokyo and Honolulu.
With Me, Bamboo Pole and Birthday Gift incorporated the theme “better city, better life,” which is also Shanghai’s motto for its 2010 World Expo. Fresh Lenses, ACM student Crystal Chen’s documentary on the international filmmaking effort, and It Happened One Afternoon, a short feature shot in Hawaiʻi by an earlier ACM–Shanghai University crew were also part of the HIFF lineup.
The SMART Exchange was co-sponsored by HIFF and the Shanghai International Film Festival.
In 2006 ACM filmmakers were the first students to screen works at the Shanghai festival, leading to an international student film competition. Six ACM students attended Shanghai screenings of their work in June 2008.
In turn, some of the Shanghai students were in Hawaiʻi for the joint films’ premiers. They were as enthusiastic as their UH counterparts about participating in HIFF.
“It was a honor to be part of HIFF and to show people our work,” says Shanghai student Liu Danni, who directed Birthday Gift. Adds Mu, “It felt great getting to show my films to a bigger audience and making connections with people in this industry was cool.”
Student Filmmaker at UH Mānoa
Student filmmaker Lauren Cheape talks about her experience in an exchange program between University of Hawaiʻi’s Academy for Creative Media and Shanghai University.
This excerpt is from a video produced by the students of the Academy for Creative media.