by Angelica Hill (UK), Resident Press Corps
On February 8, 2018, award-winning New York- based filmmaker Miao Wang spoke about her film Mainland, following a screening of the film at I-House. The producers of the film, Damon Smith and Violet Du Feng, joined her in discussing the film.
Born in Beijing following the Cultural Revolution, Wang grew up at the end of the pre-modernized Communist China era and immigrated to the United States in 1990 when she was 12. In 2005 she earned her M.F.A. in Design and Film from the Parsons School of Design, before beginning work at Maysies Films studio. She now runs her own production company, Three Waters Films.
Mainland, filmed over three years in both China and the U.S., is a coming-of-age story of two Chinese teenagers, Stella and Harry, as they attend boarding school in rural Maine. Their stories mirror that of the hundreds of “parachute students” who came to the U.S. to private school system during this period to escape the dreaded Chinese college entrance exam, hoping to find the sort of stereotypical high school portrayed in Hollywood movies.
The film dramatizes many of the struggles faced by Chinese and other international students: adjusting to a culture clash, a new way of life, and all the other struggles teenagers globally go through as they find their place and identity in the world. In the film, Stella talked about how she fell in love with the idea of coming to America after watching movies such as High School Musical.
Mainland premiered on 11th March 2017, at SXSW 2017 and was awarded a Special Jury Award for Excellence in Observational Cinema. The film is part two in her trilogy looking at the rise of China and follows the first, instalment, Beijing Taxi.
Resident Chanzi Song said she wanted to watch the film because of her interest in the contract between the U.S. and the Chinese education system and because she wanted to find if and how the two main characters adjusted to an unfamiliar educational system. Natalie Lam, a Chinese-American, was interested in how the experiences of Chinese immigrants differed from her own, as someone who is of Chinese heritage but grew up in the US. And Patricia Dewi knew little about the film before deciding to attend the screening but was excited and surprised about what she learned.
Those who attended the film and discussion were struck by the difference in how Americans and Chinese measure and define happiness, and how much Stella and Harry had changed by the end of the film.
The characters recognized of how much they valued their home and family once they were far from both.
Residents in attendance commented and questions about how Americans spoke to and acted around the Chinese students and what it’s like for the parents of children studying abroad.
“I learned insight about Chinese culture and the experiences of those coming to the U.S. from China,” said one resident. “Whether you come from China or not the feeling of going to a new place, and feeling nervous as to whether you will fit in, or trying to adjust, is relatable to all.”
Wang said she wanted to start conversations with her film. And she definitely succeeded.