After screening 61 thought-provoking movies over four days, Duke Kunshan’s first Water Towns Environmental Film and Arts Festival drew to a close on April 14 with an awards ceremony and treasure hunt through the picturesque alleys of Jinxi.
“Homeland: Stories from Sanjiangyuan,” a seven-minute Chinese production about the herdsmen helping protect Nyanpo Yuzee National Park, received the Jinxi Prize for best short film.
Meanwhile, the award for best student film went to first-year undergraduate Wang Xiaonan for “Beryl’s One Week,” which highlighted the use of plastics in everyday life.
“I was really surprised to win,” said Wang, from Wuxi, Jiangsu. “I hope our film can make people pay attention to recycling plastic and reducing plastic in their daily lives.”
The theme for the inaugural Water Towns festival was “plastic waste,” and the schedule included multiple award-winning movies on the subject, including “A Plastic Ocean” from the Netherlands, “Albatross” from the United States, and “Oceans: The Mystery of the Missing Plastic” from France.
The four-day event also included a stunning nighttime “trashion” gala on Friday, in which visual artist Kong Ning turned out in a bridal gown made from reused materials and covered in (dead) plastic fish.
Students, faculty and children also strutted their stuff in garments made using old banners, netting and discarded plastic bottles, all accompanied by saxophonist Li Tieqiao, who is regarded by many as China’s best free jazz musician.
Krista McJarrow-Keller, a first-year undergraduate student from New Zealand who helped organize the festival, said she believes art and cultural events are essential to changing the way people talk about environmental and ecological conservation.
“They bring emotion into the conversation,” she said. “Too often the environment is discussed in economic, scientific or utilitarian terms, and not in the terms of the homes of generations of people being destroyed, or a species lost forever. These events can actually motivate people to do something, to press issues rather than just argue about them.”
The festival was officially opened with a red carpet reception for special guests, including Steve Blake, chief China representative of international NGO WildAid, and professor Stuart Pimm, a world-renowned expert on present-day extinctions and efforts to prevent them.
This was followed by a screening of Saving the Porpoise, a movie that follows Chinese pianist Lang Lang as he uncovers the tragic story of Mexico’s disappearing vaquita porpoise.
Activities on the first three days were held on the university’s campus, with the awards ceremony at the Points Center for Contemporary Art in Jinxi water town.
To ensure the event had a lasting effect, organizers also introduced The Pledge, which saw almost 100 people sign up to a joint commitment to live more environmentally sustainable lives.
“Art not only stimulates the senses but can be crucial in spreading important messages about the issues facing our world today, and this is especially true when talking global environmental challenges,” said festival director Miguel Rojas-Sotelo, an art historian and visiting scholar from Duke University.
“Our films focused this year on plastic pollution, the danger it poses to ecology and the food chain, but by encouraging our festival-goers to sign a pledge to live greener lives, we hope the message will resonate long after the films’ end credits roll.”