Filming the student experience at XJTLU

27 Jul 2021

This year’s Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University graduation saw the return of films about students, made by students, as part of the celebration.

The first student graduation films were created for the 2019 graduation, but the tradition was skipped in 2020 because of the pandemic.

Students from XJTLU’s School of Film and TV Arts involved in the project this year say they not only learned practical skills but got an inside look into how the Year Four students were feeling.

“I think they were very excited about their future, and for what they have accomplished. It was overwhelmingly optimistic,” says Vanessa Bailey, a Year Two student in the Film and TV Production Programme and project volunteer.

“I'm looking forward to seeing what I will be like when I get to the point of graduation,” she says.

Most other students who worked on the films are in a Year Three documentary production module; the films are part of their assessments.

The students created films for the School of Advanced Technology, Design School, School of Film and TV Arts, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, International Business School Suzhou and School of Science.

Jueming Zhang (pictured above) and four other team members spent a semester on their documentary film about the School of Advanced Technology, interviewing thirteen students and spending hours on pre-planning, filming and post-production.

“We recorded the reasons why the students chose their majors, the challenges they met in their studies and how they overcame them, and their plans for the future,” Zhang says.

The students served roles as director, producer, camera operator, sound recorder and editor. Zhang was a producer, communicating with tutors and interviewees, setting up timetables and budgets and lending equipment.

“I prided myself on being involved in the whole process, setting a reasonable timetable and pushing everyone to finish their work to complete the film on time,” Zhang says.

A screenshot from the film about School of Advanced Technology

As a project volunteer, Bailey assisted the instructors, including Professor Garrabost Jayalakshmi from SoFTA, in tasks like re-shooting some of the footage.

"I learned a lot about camera work from our Professor Jaya and felt that each shoot was like an out-of-class tutorial,” Bailey says.

“Certain information and skills can only be acquired through practical experience, especially because filmmaking is an incredibly technical medium.

“Being thrust into the environment can be a little unsettling if you have minimal experience. But Professor Jaya was incredibly patient yet firm in guiding us. She instructed us both on the practical aspects and on how to see the environments we were filming from a creative and aesthetic point of view.”

Zhang says the other project instructor, Kaisi Wang, also supported students’ first-hand learning.

"When we didn't know how to edit the footage shot, our tutor Kaisi Wang suggested we review the footage several times to find the most interesting content," she says.

"Wang's recognition was important. Her encouragement got us through moments when we were not satisfied with our progress, so that finally we made a film that exceeded our expectations."

Vanessa Bailey (second from the right) in the filiming group

Bailey says she enjoyed seeing the process of colour grading and sound post-production at a professional calibrating studio in Shanghai.

“It was almost miraculous what can be done with certain footage that is too grey or too dark. Colour grading made the films so much more vibrant,” Bailey says.

In addition to the honing technical skills and knowledge, Bailey says she appreciated hearing the students’ stories.
“One of the questions we asked was, ‘What's your greatest obstacle and how did you overcome it?’

“One of our students talked about going through a depressive episode where she couldn't really produce work. That is something that I think a lot of us can relate to. How she overcame that was inspiring.”

Both Bailey and Zhang say they hope students’ perseverance is a source of pride upon graduation.

"University can be tough and full of challenging moments, and graduation is about celebrating the fact that the graduates overcame those difficulties in the end. It’s also about celebrating the person you are today because of those difficulties,” Bailey says.

“I hope the graduates understand that and have a sense of accomplishment from their time here while they look forward to the future.”

Zhang also says she hopes the films are meaningful to students, parents and other viewers.

"I hope the audience will feel hopeful, nostalgic, and optimistic for the future. I hope that students can recognise some of their own university experiences in each film and see themselves and their degree well represented."

By Wenzhen Li
Edited by Tamara Kaup
Photos courtesy of Jueming Zhang and Vanessa Bailey

27 Jul 2021