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Through the Lens: PBI Grant Winners Travel and Document the World

Pomona students travel the world, documenting what they see, thanks to the PBI Summer Video Grant Program.

Six Pomona College students traveled the world last summer, documenting the people they met, exploring their lives and the issues that matter to them, thanks to grants from the Pacific Basin Institute. The videos, shown at lunchtime events in early December, are now available for viewing online.

The PBI Summer Video Grant program, now in its second year, provides students with $1,000, a Canon Zr200 Mini DV camera on loan, editing software and technical assistance so that they may create a short documentary film during their summer vacation. Grant recipients are chosen from a pool of applicants who submit their proposals in the spring and this year, the six students chosen traveled to Tunisia, Cameroon, Pakistan, Peru, Taiwan and Beijing, filming in the summer and editing in the fall.

Now that the films can be watched online, students may vote for the best video, the winner of which receives their own video camera. The winning film will also be shown again in the spring, at the final PBI film festival event.

“The students brought very fresh, different angles than more professional filmmakers would bring to it,” says Dru Gladney, anthropology professor and president of the PBI. “They’re not coming to it from a media-studies major [perspective]. They’re coming to it as people just interested in the area. Some of them have some experience film making, and other have had no experience. We’re not really looking for experience. We’re looking for really good ideas and people who are really open to learning.”

The program came about in 2006-07 as a way to utilize the PBI’s large film archive and the services of its curator Pedro Loureiro and assistant curator Paul Sun. The grants are funded using some leftover monies from an Avery Foundation grant, which supports a PBI speakers program.

Senior David Wang won the award for best video last year with Beijing Ballers, a chronicle of the social dynamics of playing street basketball in China. It recently played at the Zero Film Festival in Los Angeles, and Wang is considering submitting it to more festivals.

This year, Wang submitted another proposal, focusing on the inequalities of rural education in China with Educating the Forgotten Majority. “[My latest video] briefly touches upon many of the challenges faced by rural students and teachers,” says Wang, who filmed it while on a Fulbright-funded program that allowed him to teach and lecture in rural Chinese schools. “I’m also using it as an outreach film to promote the pen-pal program I’m starting with many of the children in the film.”

Wang says the experience has taught him a lot about Chinese culture—the nuances of gestures, for example—because he had to watch the interviews and footage countless times while editing, but it’s also given him a new focus for his future: Documentary film. “The first film really opened up my eyes that this might be something I might enjoy doing not just as a one-time thing or even as a hobby, but maybe for my future.”

Naohito Miura ’11 spent his summer living with a host family in a small Andean community of Pucara, Peru, near Lake Titicaca. Located between the tourist destinations Cuzco and Puno, the 3,500-person town is often a quick stop for tourists. With his film Pucara: The Next Machu Picchu?, Miura explored tourism in smaller indigenous communities and whether it’s a positive force, helping assuage poverty and bringing development, or if there are other impacts on the local people.

Miura originally became interested in Peru after traveling with Professor Ralph Bolton on a Chijnaya trip. He chose to focus on tourism because, as a Honolulu native, he understands the impact it can have on a community. “I wondered what it would mean to a rural community in a less prosperous country like Peru. Making the film made me think about how the tourists and local people live in quite different worlds.”

The other students who received grants and made films this past summer are Jemel Derbali ’09 (The Water Came: The Story of Dijima), Amanda Hsiao ‘09 (The Chinese in Cameroon), Afshin Khan ‘11 (Aag ki Beti: Daughter of the Fire), and John Tsueh (Playing Machines? Changes in Taiwanese Youth Baseball). All six films, as well as three videos from the first round of grants in 2006-07, are available for viewing on the PBI Web site.