A work by four students from the Journalism and Media Studies Centre was nominated for best documentary film at the 1st China International Micro-film Exhibition held in Hangzhou October 18-20. The film was one of 48 nominees selected from over 2,000 entries.
The 14-minute film, “Death Valley 1918,” tells the story of the biggest fire in Hong Kong’s history, which killed over 600 people during a horse race at Happy Valley in 1918. It was the students’ final project for last spring’s Documentary Film Making class, which was taught by Nancy Tong, a 1989 Academy Award nominee.
Nomi Wong, one of the four producers, credited the film’s theme as well as its quality for attracting the nomination.
“The film probably received attention because of the difficult subject matter,” said Wong, a current Master of Journalism student who acted as the film’s director and scriptwriter. “Compared to other more contemporary themes, ours was historical and involved a challenging topic, so I think it got people’s attention.”
The team came across the story when one of its members, Lhagva Erdene (MJ2013) from Mongolia, read about it in Wikipedia. Through research, he was able locate two of the victims’ relatives, both of whom were living in the US, and interviewed them via Skype.
To get historical data and footage, Wong worked with the former chief curator of the Hong Kong Museum of History, Dr. Joseph Ting Sun-pao, and architect Ho Cham, whose grandfather designed the 1918 Happy Valley Fire Memorial. Another team member, Suzie Deng (MJ2013), visited various museums in Hong Kong to obtain archival material. Pan Xinlei (MJ2013) served as the project’s cameraman, and did extensive editing. Ruby Yang, a visiting faculty member and an Academy Award winner, offered the team guidance on editing the final cut.
“The most difficult part was really the editing, which took countless hours,” said Wong. “But when a snippet of our film was shown on the large screen in front of thousands of people in Hangzhou, I nearly cried.”