In conversation with the crew of ‘Water Town’ | Duke Kunshan University

In conversation with the crew of ‘Water Town’

Editor’s note: Student filmmaker Rachel Darius ’22 recently released her debut documentary “Water Town,” which focuses on Bacheng, a historic water town in Jiangsu province, China. In this video, Darius and her crew talk about their experiences making the movie.


RACHEL DARIUS: Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had an affinity for water. Sitting by the water was a way to escape the noise. The world around me that never seemed to rest.

Hi, my name is Rachel Darius, and I’m the creator behind the documentary “Water Town.”

“Water Town” is a short documentary about an old water town in Kunshan, and how life has changed there following Kunshan’s recent economic development.

The inspiration behind this project actually started back in April 2019 when one of my professors suggested I do a project on a water town. After some research, I decided to focus on Bacheng, a water town that’s about 15 minutes away from DKU. I made it a long-term independent study project, part of the DKU Innovation and Interdisciplinary Research and Creative Arts Program. But from start to finish, this project took about a year to complete.

I guess you could say I was the director, the narrator, the editor, the cameraman of this film, but I relied heavily on my friends and professors to help me with this project.

BEI CHEN (MARK): My role in this project is a translator and an interviewer.

BIHUI HUANG (HONEY): I helped Rachel with filming and translating subtitles.

YINCHU LU (RUDY): I helped with translations and finding interviewees.

YINAN DU (NANCY): Sound recording and also approaching people for interviews.

REMINGTON GILLIS: I recorded a lot of audio, I carried a lot of bags and I did my best to keep morale up when going got tough and batteries stopped working.

DARIUS: There were so many roadblocks for this project. First thing first, this is my first film, so I had to figure out how to make a film as I went. And creatively speaking, I had to figure out a way to tell this story in an interesting way, on a topic that maybe not a lot of people would be interested in.

LU: Sometimes, it’s just simply hard to find people who are willing to be interviewed and also comfortable with being shot by camera.

DU: We get so many rejections from people who are not willing to participate. So we have to think about different ways to approach them to get the answers we want.

Screenshots from the documentary “Water Town”

LU: We have to approach people and try to have a true and deep conversation with them. We try to know their background stories as much as possible, instead of just having a passive Q&A.

GILLIS: A funny moment for me was when we went to the coat factory and I really wanted to get a coat. It’s been my dream my entire life to get one of those really long coats. They only had two in my size, and they kept saying “Aw, this tall foreigner, this tall foreigner.” I felt like Godzilla and everybody was laughing at me. But at the end of the day I got my coat so I was pretty satisfied.

HUANG: When I was shooting one of the montages for Rachel, the scene in which it’s a tracking shot of her handholding a camera. We had a lot of tries for that. It was just hard try to do a tracking shot while someone’s walking and the pace of her walk was different. So it’s like catching up with Rachel but also making sure the camera was in focus.

CHEN: I think the greatest moment for me throughout this project is the time that I finally saw this documentary on YouTube.

GILLIS: Just seeing everything come together. It’s one thing to sit in the computer lab three seats away from Rachel and watch her edit footage and to watch the rough drafts, but it’s never the finished project.

DARIUS: I think the greatest moment for me was seeing how happy Remi and Mark were while we were shooting in Bacheng, especially since it was their first time there. I felt like a proud mother in a way.

CHEN: I think it’s the technique of how to communicate with people as we learned in EAP (English for Academic Purposes) class.

DU: It’s the first hands-on experience for me to know, if you tilt the recorder near the interviewer’s shoulder, you will get the best result of the sound.

Screenshots from the documentary “Water Town”

DARIUS: Originally, I wanted this documentary to be about just one person in Bacheng and follow them around, but that didn’t happen. So I ended up having to make the film more about me and my personal journey as I navigated this water town that I knew nothing about.

CHEN: If I were to shoot this film again, I would definitely try to improve the skills of communicating with the interviewees.

GILLIS: I’d have a bag of 80 extra batteries on me at all times.

DARIUS: One, to have better audio, and two, more stable shots. Since most of the documentary was shot handheld, so I was using my hands to film and not using tripod, a lot of the shots, especially with me walking, are very “wippy woppy” if that’s a word.

My advice for freshmen and incoming students who are planning on majoring in media and arts is to be open to trying new things and if you have an idea, just go for it.

CHEN: Be patient. Because when you have a thing you want to do, you already have the project, you have the plan, the most important thing is you have the patience to carry out the project carefully. And you have to make adjustments to the project from time to time to make sure it’s finalized into perfect shape. 

GILLIS: Get out there and start doing things. Start taking photos, start filming things, start writing things, because you’re never going to just start one day and be brilliant at it. You have to start now, and maybe someday in the future you’ll be really brilliant at it. But you’ll never get there if you don’t start.

Watch the documentary “Water Town” on YouTube.