When it comes to filmmaking, “sometimes you just have to take risks and believe you can make a difference.” Such was the advice from Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker and JMSC faculty member Ruby Yang before a packed audience at Hong Kong University on April 25.

Photo by Vannarin Neou

Photo by Vannarin Neou

Yang was delivering her inaugural talk, titled “Becoming American, Becoming Chinese: A Personal Journey Through San Francisco, Beijing and Hong Kong,” as HKU’s new Hung Leung Hau Ling Distinguished Fellow in Humanities. She showed clips of her documentaries, short subjects and public service announcements, and gave a tour d’horizon of her career.

Yang left Hong Kong for San Francisco in 1997 to study art. She left her comfort zone and moved to Beijing in late 2004 to produce films about such sensitive subjects as HIV/AIDS and environmental degradation.

She is best known for the trilogy of short documentary films she produced there: The Blood of Yingzhou District, about a group of orphans whose parents died from HIV/AIDS-tainted blood, which won an Oscar in 2007; The Warriors of Qiugang, which tells the story of villagers fighting against a toxic chemical plant, and received an Oscar nomination for best documentary short in 2011; and her film about the lives of gay men in China, Tongzhi in Love, which was short-listed in the same category in 2008.

“I’ve now gone full circle, coming back to Hong Kong, and now (to) the JMSC,” she said.

In addition to their artistic merit, Yang’s works show the impact documentary films can have on the lives of their subjects. “After Warriors of Qiugang was nominated, the local government in Benghu in Anhui province announced a RMB30 million campaign to clean up the toxic sites shown in the film,” Yang said. “Today, they’re all cleaned up.”

While being a filmmaker in China is rewarding, the challenges can be daunting, she said. When dealing with government officials, “you need locals to help you ‘decode’ the real meaning of what they’re saying,” said Yang. “It’s also getting more difficult to film in China as the government tightens up. This is why I’m mentoring the next generation of young Chinese filmmakers.”

Her advice to aspiring filmmakers was to be objective, and don’t shoot too much. “You have to be prepared to do a lot of post-production work. Also, think out your theme before you ask questions. Outlines and storyboards are important.” She also recommended that filmmakers spend a lot of time with their subjects, particularly if they want people to open up.

Despite the obstacles and financial risks, Yang was optimistic about the future of documentary filmmaking, particularly in the Asian region. “Being a filmmaker is tough, but right now there are lots of subjects in Asia,” she said. “I see difficulties and challenges, but also lots of opportunity.”

April 29, 2014

Academy Award Winning Faculty Member Gives Inaugural Talk

Academy Award winner and JMSC faculty member Ruby Yang delivered her inaugural talk, titled “Becoming American, Becoming Chinese: A Personal Journey Through San Francisco, Beijing and Hong Kong,” as HKU’s new Hung Leung Hau Ling Distinguished Fellow in Humanities on April 25. She showed clips of her documentaries, short subjects and public service announcements, and gave a tour d’horizon of her career.
February 25, 2014

Journalism jobs abound for those prepared, says new JMSC advisor

For journalism students worried about finding jobs in a changing media environment after graduation, the words of William Chang should bring some comfort. There are lots of opportunities out there for today’s journalism students, especially […]
January 8, 2014

Research Staff

David Bandurski BA (Indiana), MSJ (Northwestern) Research Associate dbandurs@hkucc.hku.hk Audrey Chen Research Assistant audrey6@hku.hk Emma Dong Research Assistant emmad@hku.hk Phoebe Peng Research Assistant phoebeqp@hku.hk Wang Rui Research Assistant ruiwang@hku.hk Karen Zhang Research Assistant karencw@hku.hk
December 17, 2013

Two Veteran Journalists from Top U.S. News Organizations Join JMSC Faculty

Two seasoned journalists from The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times have joined the Journalism and Media Studies Centre as Adjust Professors. Adam Najberg (WSJ) will be teaching a course on financial journalism, while Brian Zittel (NYT) will teach opinion writing. Both stress the importance of "telling a good story."
August 22, 2012

Two More Experienced Journalists Join JMSC Teaching Staff

Two  experienced journalists have joined the JMSC’s teaching staff. Kevin Sites has been appointed Associate Professor of Practice. He will start teaching in the Autumn semester; his initial courses are Introduction to TV and Television […]
January 13, 2012

Adjuncts

Cliff Buddle Honorary Lecturer cliff.buddle@gmail.com Cliff Buddle, Special Projects Editor at the South China Morning Post, has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years in London and Hong Kong. He began his career […]
January 12, 2012

Honorary and Visiting Professors

Ford Burkhart Honorary Professor Dr Burkhart is a veteran journalist who has made his mark in the profession and in journalism education.  His impressive career as reporter, editor and writer has spanned four decades and […]
January 9, 2012

Teaching Support

Kitty Ho BJ (HKU) Teaching Assistant syho2010@hku.hk AJ Libunao BA Studio Arts (UC Irvine), MSc (HKPU) Online Media Producer / Tutor ajlibunao@gmail.com Anne Kruger BA (USQ), GradDipArts (USQ), GradDipFET (USQ), MA Journalism (research) candidate (QUT) […]