Documentary Captures Lives of Chinese International Students

Miao Wang (Photo by Mike Hong via World Journal)

A documentary following the lives of two Chinese international students who came from big cities and rich families to study at a boarding school in Maine will open at the AMC Empire 25 theatre in Times Square on March 16. Miao Wang, the director who spent three years traveling between the U.S. and China to capture the cultural evolution of these young students, said she hopes the film can offer viewers a glimpse of the rapidly growing group of young Chinese international students. Wang understands what they went through because she herself was once one of them.

Born in Beijing, Wang came to the U.S. in 1990 with her parents when she was 13. They landed in Boston first, where she went to school and experienced the same challenges as many young international students today. Language and cultural barriers made Wang silent. “The first two years, I almost didn’t talk to anyone,” she said. But the silver lining is that the silence turned her into a sharp observer, and triggered her interest in documentaries recording changes in history and society.

Wang, whose parents both work in the sciences, went to the University of Chicago to study economics. After graduation, she moved to New York and started working in the hip internet industry. But after 9/11, the economy sagged, the internet bubble burst, and Wang lost her job. That turned out to be an opportunity for her to pursue the arts, which she had always been interested in, and to make it her profession. She studied illustration at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and then enrolled in Parsons School of Design to study design and technology where she selected many courses related to filmmaking.

Her final project at Parsons, the acclaimed “Yellow Ox Mountain,” was her debut short film, and since then, Wang has been working as a documentary filmmaker. With “Beijing Taxi,” the first full-length documentary she filmed before the Beijing Olympics, she made a name for herself. As her second full-length film, “Maineland” is also the second film of her trilogy on China with the third one – about love and family relationships among Chinese Americans – in the planning stage.

In talking about “Maineland,” Wang said it was challenging to shoot a group of high schoolers who are in a rebellious stage for a long period of time. The moods of the protagonists in her film fluctuated and sometimes they were not cooperative. But when the mother of one of them watched the finished film, she was so appreciative that her son’s life in high school in the U.S. was captured in a film.

Wang said during the pre-screening, the audiences in China and in the U.S. reacted in different ways to the film, which reflects that people in the two countries have their own understanding and ignorance about this group. The audience in China were more interested in the fact that the young students’ life in the U.S. was not all glorious and romantic. They wanted to learn more about real life in the U.S. The American audience was impressed by the effort of these young people in assimilating. They were also interested in the contemporary China projected on the screen.

“My own experience in both China and the U.S. offers me a unique perspective on the communication between different cultures, and also makes me believe that cultural and educational exchanges are the basis of mutual understanding between people in China and in the U.S.,” Wang said.

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