Student-directed documentary enters int’l film festival
2016-11-30 10:17:00

A documentary made by a group of students from Suzhou-based Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU), that captures the lives of people living in a rapidly-disappearing town in Suzhou, is set to make its mark on the international film festival stage.

Edge Town, directed by Hao Jiang, a Year Four BEng Architecture student, has entered the Cheap Cuts Documentary Film Festival and the BFI London International Film Festival, one of the best-known film festivals in the world.

The film tells the story of Chefang, a town originally located close to Suzhou’s Industrial Park area, before it was divided into three different administrative regions during the rapid urban expansion of the area.

First built in late Qing Dynasty (1840-1911), the town is now becoming part of the history as China’s urban areas change and develop. As Austin Williams, executive director of the documentary and associate professor in XJTLU’s Department of Architecture explains, “The film explores the changing face of China and helps us understand a whole range of urban issues. It attempts to preserve some genuine local voices.”

Hao Jiang

A year ago, as part of a design project for his degree program, Hao visited a street in Chefang which was being pulled down. He recalled that the area was extremely run-down but that some old residents were still living there.

He said he was attracted to a particular scene of local people talking and enjoying the sunshine together in front of a dilapidated, half-demolished shop.

“I thought they looked like they were enjoying their lives, but it was a strange picture when you consider the background behind them,” he said.

He shared his observations and feelings with Austin, who encouraged him to talk to the people of Chefang to find out what they were really thinking.

Hao and his classmates spent several weeks in the town interviewing the residents, many of whom later appeared in the documentary, along with scenes from the rapidly disappearing town.

“We realized that we were capturing attitudes that were being lost,” Austin recalled.

“I wanted to preserve for people the memory of where they once lived. And I wanted to record people’s ideas about the future.” Hao added.

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