COURTESY JAY HUBERT
Henry Mochida, a student with the University of Hawaii's Academy for Creative Media, above, snaps a photo at the Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts at Fudan University.
Focus on Shanghai
Hawaii filmmakers get the celebrity treatment at the home of Chinese cinema
'SHANGHAI is not China." It's a curious but revelatory observation by the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, Brenda Lei Foster, who is also a part-time Hawaii resident. It's made during a breakfast meeting with a delegation from the Hawaii International Film Festival and the University of Hawaii's Academy for Creative Media.
Five filmmakers from the academy who participated in last month's 10th Annual Shanghai International Film Festival learn that the bustling financial and cultural port city -- the largest city in the largest country in the world -- is very much a vibrant entity, at the forefront of development.
Here you'll come away with impressions of a lively, cosmopolitan city, far different from most of China.
In Shanghai, growth is obvious in the construction of spectacular high-rises that dwarf older buildings that represent the China of old. It's in the press of taxis, trucks, buses, scooters and bicycles fighting for space on congested city's roads. It's in the crush of 17 million people, a significant number immigrants from outlying provinces. "You can see how hard they're pushing forward," said filmmaker Henry Mochida.
COURTESY JAY HUBERT
Jay Hubert is held aloft by Roger Nakamine, left, Russell Blanchard, Brian Makanoa and Mochida in front of the Shanghai Grand Theatre. The student filmmakers participated in last month's Shanghai International Film Festival.
And it seems only right that the Hawaii delegation continues to strengthen ties with the city that is the birthplace of Chinese cinema. The group of select student filmmakers even had their films screened at a special showcase at the film festival, along with projects by Shanghai University students.
"The opportunity of an international screening of one's film is a milestone for any young filmmaker," said assistant professor and producer Anne Misawa, "and some of our ACM students ... had never even ventured out of the country before, much less with a film of their own expression showcased in such a public, international forum. This was a tremendous experience."
The experience included being treated as celebrities, walking the red carpet past Chinese paparazzi at the opulent Shanghai Grand Theatre.
"They mistakenly assumed we were actually big film stars," said filmmaker Jay Hubert, talking about enthusiastic fans lining the walkway. "One group of young female admirers even managed to get their hands on poor Henry and pin him to the fence, but he didn't seem to mind so much."
The Shanghai International Film Festival presents unique opportunities for cultural exchange and collaboration
Consider this scenario: Future relations between China and Hawaii hinging upon how well their college students collaborate on film projects.
Chuck Boller and his staff at the Hawaii International Film Festival did the groundbreaking work in 2002, establishing ties with the Shanghai International Film Festival. That outreach now includes the SMART (Student Media Art) exchange program between the University of Hawaii's Academy for Creative Media and Shanghai University.
"This is an invaluable opportunity not only for the students, but, dare I say it, also for China and Hawaii as well," said Anne Misawa, assistant professor and producer at the Academy for Creative Media. "It's an opportunity for planting seeds in a potentially powerful exchange that is interpersonal, cultural and economic."
Last year, student filmmakers traveled to and from Shanghai and Honolulu as guests of the respective universities, where their short films were showcased at HIFF and SIFF. This year, five films by Hawaii students were showcased at the 10-year-old festival in Shanghai, and one in particular, Jay Hubert's "Dao," was screened in international competition. Last month's festival placed Hubert's film among student work from China, Korea, Germany, the United Kingdom and such prestigious U.S. film schools as the University of Southern California and the University of California at Los Angeles, chosen from among 300 submissions.
The other Hawaii student films shown were "A Birthday with Grandpa" (Russell Blanchard), "Chopsticks" (Henry Mochida), "Sore Shoulder and Aching Jaws" (Roger Nakamine) and "Eva" (Brian Makanoa).
The students who took the trip to Shanghai all found the experience rewarding.
"The Shanghai International Film Festival really seems to embrace the positive effects film can have on people, both locally and cross-culturally," said Nakamine. "It reminded me a lot of HIFF in that respect, which was nice. You can travel over 5,000 miles, step off the plane and meet people with the same sensibilities as yourself."
The shopping was good, too.
COURTESY JAY HUBERT
A tour of the Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts included this sweeping view of the expansive Songjiang University Town.
"Being able to haggle (over the cost of goods there) turned out to be incredibly addicting," Nagamine said. "I have to fight the urge now that I'm back home -- like walking into Circuit City and be like, 'How much for the DVD? 20? I give you seven.'
"Now I've got some kind of postpartum depression thing going on. I really want to be back in Shanghai. Last week, I dragged my girlfriend to Chinatown on a Sunday afternoon just so we could walk around and take pictures. It was nice but not quite the same."
Blanchard and Makanoa had never traveled outside of the United States before.
"Visiting Shanghai -- first time in a big city -- it was fun because taxicabs were so cheap, and the traffic so crazy, it was like a carnival ride every we went, like bumper cars. Me and Roger always had video cameras ready for the accident, ready for us to hit somebody, but it never happened."
Makanoa was impressed with the size of the festival and particularly the opportunity to walk the red carpet, outside the opulent Shanghai Grand Theatre, with the delegation. "We'd get out of the minibus, make a little turn, and there's a wall of people taking pictures. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was one of the highlights of the trip for me, and to have it all broadcast on national TV ..."
Blanchard said he thought the Hawaii films "played very well. It was a great sense of comfort to see such a full house. ... I thought the audience was great the way they soaked in our films and (sincerely applauded) at the conclusion of every one."
The Shanghai trip also included a 90-minute drive to the expansive suburban Songjiang University Town and to Fudan University's Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts.
The visit "really cemented my thoughts on Shanghai as a whole," Blanchard said. "It is a city on the edge of great things. They are emerging from a period where Western contact was forbidden, and you can see it in the architecture and attitudes around the city. The Chinese were very friendly throughout the city, and they are on the path to modernizing their society for the next generation."
COURTESY JAY HUBERT
Representatives of the University of Hawaii's Academy for Creative Media walk the red carpet on closing night of last month's Shanghai International Film Festival. Professor and Chairman Tom Brislin, left, escorted student filmmakers Russell Blanchard, Roger Nakamine, Jay Hubert and Henry Mochida; Hawaii-born actor Keahi Chun, who lives in Shanghai; and Ann Misawa, assistant professor and producer.
A FUTURE partner in the exchange program could be the Beijing Film Academy, which Hubert entered after graduating from UH. The blue-eyed Texas native speaks fluent Mandarin, which never failed to impress the Chinese.
This was Hubert's third straight visit to the Shanghai festival. "Every year, I feel like I love the festival and the city even more than the year before," he wrote via e-mail from Beijing.
Especially after nine months in the Chinese capital, Hubert said, Shanghai seemed lively, colorful and very enticing.
"Part of me really wanted to pack my bags when I got back to Beijing and head to Shanghai in search of a job. But that's the problem. While there are plenty of TV programs and even a number of films shot in Shanghai, Beijing is still the center of the Chinese film world. That's odd, considering Shanghai is where the film industry first started to take off in China, but perhaps the establishment of the Beijing Film Academy had a lot to do with that."
Out of the group of student filmmakers, only Hubert and Mochida have done any kind of filmmaking outside of Hawaii. In fact, Hubert was Mochida's director of photography on "Chopsticks," which was shot in Tokyo.
"I would have an idea of what shots I wanted," Mochida said, "and sometimes we would end up arguing about a shot while we're on the streets of Tokyo. But Jay has really shaped how I look at films."
The two also worked on another short of Mochida's, "Layover in Hong Kong," which Mochida hopes will be screened in October at the Louis Vuitton Hawaii International Film Festival.
Besides finishing editing that film, Mochida participated in the 48 Hour Film Festival, with the two-day shoot just finishing yesterday.
"I don't want to end up lazy and lose my edge. I'm hooked."
And the philosophy that drives his art? "P.Y.P. -- pursue your passions," he said with a laugh.