Professor plans documentary workshop at 2008 Olympics
November 14, 2006 12:05 AM
A select group of SF State students may have the rare opportunity of documenting the 2008 Olympics in Beijing if a new professor to SF State’s cinema department has her way.
Weimin Zhang, an assistant professor who started this semester, has already begun an Olympic documentary project unassociated with SF State, but the opportunity to film the world-watched and historic athletic event is something she said would be of “great advantage” to her cinema students.
“Working at the Olympics will be an exciting experience,” Zhang said.
Although Zhang said she has done three features and a TV drama series, her faculty outline boasts nearly a dozen awards and more than half a dozen films and multi-media projects.
Currently teaching two courses, Cinematography and Lighting, and Intro to Digital Filmmaking, 39-year-old Zhang is sharing her extensive knowledge of the film industry in both the United States and China to create a unique experience for her students.
As a new member of SF State’s cinema faculty and with two years of preparation to do before the summer event takes place, Zhang is in the preliminary stages of planning what she calls an “intensive documentary workshop.”
Drawn to San Francisco as a tourist, Zhang said she was interested in SF State for its well-known film program and because she thinks the multi-cultural aspects of San Francisco are ideal.
Likewise, Zhang said her proposed class could have much to offer in the way of cultural exchange.
“I think it will be a great experience to work with people from another background,” she said.
Zhang said the class would take place in Beijing at one of a few local universities she has began speaking to about the possible project, one of which is her alma mater, Beijing Film Academy. As the capital, Beijing serves not only as the host city to the Olympics, but as the center of political and cultural arts in China, Zhang said.
Saying the nontraditional exchange will be beneficial for both countries’ students, Zhang would like to pair up the half-a-dozen or so American students with English-speaking Chinese students, who would act as hosts.
“There are going to be so many visual aspects to deal with and a lot of countries involved that bring their cultures and traditions with them,” said senior cinema major Miles Kittredge, 23, who will already have graduated by the time the project is under way. "I think it sounds like an awesome project. If I had an opportunity like that I’d jump all over it.”
Preproduction for the project would mean students devoting all day everyday for a couple of weeks before the games begin to become familiar with the city and its people while preparing for shooting. Students would then film currently undetermined aspects of the event, start to finish, returning to the United States with hours of film and what Zhang hopes will be six units of cinema credit.
“She’s very ambitious in the projects she wants to do,” one of Zhang’s students, Andrea Hale, 21, said. Hale said the film department sometimes lacks real-world experience and that “any chance to work on an actual film would be great.”
Zhang said she will try her best to eliminate costs for students by applying for grants through the Documentary Institute. She’s hoping to cover costs like airfare, and set up free accommodations by arranging for students to stay at the host university's dorms.
Zhang worked in the film industry in China for seven years and then attended Ohio University on a scholarship to receive her master of fine arts in film and a master of arts in multimedia design. Working in film for a few years in both Chicago and Los Angeles, Zhang eventually moved back to China to teach at Hong Kong Baptist University before returning to the United States to begin teaching at SF State.
Film permitting in China and security issues at the Olympics make getting official permission to document the event a difficult task, and although Zhang is already through the preliminary stages of getting permission for her own project she has more work ahead of her in making arrangements for her students.
“We would be thrilled for our department to participate in the documentary filming of the Beijing Olympics," Cinema Department Chair Steve Ujlaki said in an e-mail. "I strongly support Weimin’s efforts to bring this about.”
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