Beyond the lens: A filmmaker’s discovery and documentation

January 05, 2024

Binzhi Zhang started his academic journey at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in 2016, initially pursuing a BSc in Applied Mathematics. However, beyond textbooks and equations, he discovered a passion for photography awakening inside him. One year later, he switched his programme and became one of the first cohort in BA Filmmaking. Now, he is an award-winning documentary filmmaker.

Binzhi Zhang

From maths to films

Zhang’s shift was more than an academic decision; it was an answer to the calling of his heart.

At the School of Film and TV Arts (SoFTA), he immersed himself in every aspect of film production, from scriptwriting and photography to editing and post-production. In Year Two, he joined a team of classmates on a trip to Yixing to film a documentary about a porcelain restorer. This experience increased his passion for capturing real-life stories through documentary filmmaking.

Yet, what truly made Zhang stand out was his graduation project named “Goes Ashore”. This documentary tells the story of the lifestyle changes of fishermen in the Poyang Lake area following the Chinese government’s fishing ban policy in 2020.

“In Poyang, I saw a sign by the lake that said ‘A decade-long fishing ban, leading fishermen to shore, all for the welfare of future generations.’ It intrigued me, and I decided to delve deeper into the story behind it,” Zhang said.

Zhang single-handedly managed every phase of the production, from initial planning and filming to post-production, and even during his summer internship at Phoenix TV, he continued filming. “Due to the tight schedule and my desire to capture more details of life, I also lived with the fishermen,” he remarked.

Poster of "Goes Ashore"

“Goes Ashore” has been recognised at numerous film festivals, including the Best Student Film at the Munich New Wave Short Film Festival on 4 May 2022, the Best Debut Work at the Toronto Indie Filmmakers Festival on 27 May 2022, and the Best Student Short Film at the 11th London Seasonal Film Festival on 4 August 2022. It also received nominations for Best Documentary at the Tokyo on 11 December 2022, and London International Monthly Film Festivals on 10 June 2023.

The project was a significant milestone in Zhang’s journey at XJTLU. It showcased his deep understanding of cinematography and his fervent desire to tell stories from China.


In September 2023, Zhang continued his journey at University College London (UCL), pursuing a master’s degree in Ethnography and Documentary Film, furthering his exploration of documentary filmmaking.

Cultural fieldwork photography by Binzhi Zhang

Speaking of his experience at UCL, Zhang said: “Working with classmates from around the world and experiencing diverse cultural exchanges and collaborations, along with small-class teaching, reminded me of my time at XJTLU.

“At UCL, while collaborating with peers from prestigious global media and film institutions, I recognised that my professional training was on par with, and in certain areas, even surpassed theirs.”

Zhang’s confidence in his craft was nurtured by the learning environment during his undergraduate studies at XJTLU. SoFTA, equipped with top-tier industrial facilities and an impressive list of teachers, laid a solid foundation for his professional skill development.

“The rich and practical modules offered at the School perfectly aligned with my career aspirations. Everything about SoFTA met my expectations for a film institution,” Zhang reflected.

Poster of "Home"

Now, Zhang has returned to China to film his master’s thesis documentary titled “Home”. Focusing on demolition, this piece continued his examination of China’s societal transformations. It gained accolades such as Best Student Documentary at the London Independent Film Awards on 15 September 2023, the Best Documentary at The Monthly Film Festival on 31 August 2023, and was shortlisted for the Prisma Rome Independent Film Awards on 6 September 2023.

Zhang aspires to tell more heart-touching stories from China through his journey in documentary filmmaking.


By Wenzhen Li
Edited by Precious Chibeze and Xinmin Han
Photos courtesy of Binzhi Zhang

January 05, 2024


Cultural fusion and career success at XJTLU
XJTLU Stories

Cultural fusion and career success at XJTLU

Adrian Pietkiewicz, from Poland, studied BA International Business with a Language at XJTLU. Now, he is a Sales Engineer at Kingfa Science & Technology, ...

Learn more
‘XJTLU equips me with knowledge, experience, and confidence’
XJTLU Stories

‘XJTLU equips me with knowledge, experience, and confidence’

Michael Fortune, from Indonesia, is a Year Four student in BEng Mechatronics and Robotic Systems at the School of Advanced Technology. He shares with us his ...

Learn more