Environmental film festival: Lights, camera, take action | Duke Kunshan University

Environmental film festival: Lights, camera, take action

March 13, 2019

Some of the most important figures in wildlife and ecological conservation in China and beyond will be heading to Duke Kunshan University in April to take part in the first Water Towns Environmental Film and Arts Festival.

The event, from April 11 to 14, will screen a host of thought-provoking, independent documentary films – 50 titles in all – and boast a packed program of workshops, talks, fashion shows, art installations and exhibitions, all aimed at raising awareness of global environmental challenges.

Activities will be held over two locations – Duke Kunshan’s campus and the ancient Jinxi water town – and a key topic this year will be plastic pollution, its effects on our oceans and the food chain.

Among the speakers and special guests will be Steve Blake, China director for WildAid, an international NGO dedicated to ending the illegal wildlife trade; Mao Da, co-founder of two environmental groups, Nature University and the Rock Environment and Energy Institute; Thomas Johnson, an expert in “smog art” from the University of Sheffield; and Shu-chin Tsui, professor of Asian studies and cinema studies at Bowdoin College, Maine, and one of the most important film scholars on Chinese eco-cinema.

“Every film on cue for the Water Towns Film and Arts Festival tells a crucial story about our world,” Blake said in the run-up to the event. “Audiences from each one are sure to be inspired to take action.”

Beijing-based performance artist Kong Ning, whose eye-catching work combines art, fashion, law and the environment, will present unique, immersive pieces at the event and lead Duke Kunshan students in designing, creating and displaying upcycled garments and accessories.

Francis Sollano, the internationally acclaimed visual artist and fashion designer from the Philippines, will also talk on his pioneering work in contemporary “trashion” art, which involves making pieces from nontoxic, nonorganic household and industrial garbage.

“By showcasing the most cutting-edge films and inviting leading filmmakers, scholars and artists working on environmental issues, we are sending a positive message about Duke Kunshan’s commitment to becoming the greenest campus in China and a leader in environmental studies in a multidisciplinary fashion,” said Miguel Rojas-Sotelo, the festival director and a visiting professor from Duke University. “We want people to know what this brand-new university has to offer China and the world.”

In addition, an important part of this year’s event will be The Pledge, in which the Duke Kunshan University community and visitors will be invited to commit to living more environmentally sustainable lives at a special ceremony. You can take The Pledge, too!


Special guests so far confirmed for this year’s festival:

Steve Blake

China director, WildAid

A marine conservationist from the United States, Blake has lived in China since 2005, working in the fields of media, communications and conservation. He joined WildAid in 2013 and has gone on to lead numerous national media campaigns to promote protection of endangered wildlife, including rhinos, sharks, elephants and pangolins.

Mao Da, Ph.D.

Chairman of the board, Shenzhen Zero Waste; Academic director, Toxic-Free China

In addition to co-founding Nature University and the Rock Environment and Energy Institute, Mao launched the Chinese Zero Mercury Campaign in 2005, a Chinese NGOs network on chemicals and environmental health in 2007, and co-founded the Citizens’ Initiative on Plastic Bag Policy in 2008. He inexhaustibly publicizes reliable scientific research and various reports on the environmental impacts of mixed-waste disposal, and promotes waste reduction, separation and recycling.

Thomas Johnson, Ph.D.

Lecturer, Department of Politics, University of Sheffield

Johnson has extensively researched environmental activism in China and an expert on “smog art,” which refers to artwork that engages with the issue of severe ambient air pollution and includes various forms, such as painting, photography and performance art.

Shu-chin Tsui, Ph.D.

Professor of Asian studies and cinema studies, Bowdoin College, Maine

Tsui’s work extends across interdisciplinary fields, including film studies, cultural studies and visual art studies, and her new book is on “eco-cinema” in China. Her first book, “Women Through the Lens: Gender and Nation in a Century of Chinese Cinema,” demonstrates how woman, as visual image and discursive element, was appropriated in the construction of the nation-state.

Jet Chang

Spokesman, Tomra Asia

Tomra Systems ASA is a Norwegian multinational corporation active in the field of instrumentation for recycling solutions, and Chang has more than 15 years of experience in the energy and clean technology sectors in China.

Kong Ning

Visual and performance artist

Born in northeastern China and now based in Beijing, Kong studied law but, seeing the inequities of China’s judicial system, decided to become a multidisciplinary artist and environmental activist instead.

Francis Sollano

Visual artist, fashion designer

An internationally acclaimed, multidisciplinary creative from Manila Sollano’s work includes sculpture, installations, portraits and fashion. He pioneered “trashion” art in the Philippines and is known for his contemporary take on upcycling garbage into wearable art. An advocate for the use of indigenous fabrics and the welfare of aboriginal communities, he is co-founder of the Green Art Lab Alliance Asia.

Rafael Osuba

Founder and artistic director, Artist Studio Project

Osuba is a cultural producer, visual artist, storyteller, arts advocate and curator based in North Carolina who has pioneered many projects to help further the Latino Art movement. “Vamos a Conversar,” a 90-minute call-in show broadcast in N.C., reached over 800,000 homes a week, and he has presented numerous visual art exhibits.

Dong Lei

Nature documentary filmmaker

One of the most important nature filmmakers in China, Dong will screen “The Glories of the Minya Konga” (2018) at this year’s festival and talk on the challenges of working in natural settings. His astonishing film was shot at the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau and shows a year cycle of the wonders of nature, from snow peaks and melting glaciers to deciduous forest.

Xingyao Zheng

Photographer, filmmaker

Zheng’s work looks for traces of life in the ruins and relics of places in transformation. In her “The Long Goodbye,” she focuses on Shangqiu Ancient Town in China’s Central Plains, which has witnessed radical reconstruction.

Wang Wei

Corporate communications manager, Energy Foundation China

A filmmaker and former director and journalist with China Central Television, the state broadcaster, Wang joined the foundation in August 2016.

Dr. Jiang Nanqing

Secretary-general, China Plastics Reuse & Recycle Association

As head of one of the only associations for plastic recyclers in China, Jiang is a leading figure in efforts to tackle plastic pollution issues. Under her leadership, the CPRRA has signed up to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment and provided action plans for policymakers on recycling solutions.

Wu Wenguang

Groundbreaking filmmaker; Founder, the Memory Project

Regarded internationally as a founder of Chinese independent documentary cinema, Wu’s film “Bumming in Beijing” (1990) broke the mold with his handheld camerawork and unscripted interviews.

Li Tieqiao

Renowned musician

Regarded by many as the most exceptional free jazz musician in China, saxophonist Li has actively nurtured the nation’s fledgling avant-garde scene and is the main curator behind Sally Can't Dance, an experimental sounds festival in Beijing.

Itee Soni and Heather Kaye 

Founders, Finch Designs

Finch is based in Shanghai and is working to transform the fashion industry by using recycled PET fabric. Itee arrived in China from New Delhi in 2007. An honors graduate from India’s premier design university, the National Institute of Fashion Technology, she specializes in womenswear apparel design, textile and graphic design. Kaye arrived in 2006 with an extensive background in textile sourcing and production, garment manufacturing and quality control. She is an honors graduate from Harvard University and Parsons School of Design.