Filmmaking with a big heart

By Wang Yizhou Source:Global Times Published: 2012-12-10 17:30:05


Sun Xudong's microfilm crew works on the environmentally-themed Gift of Love. Photo: Courtesy of Sun Xudong
Sun Xudong's microfilm crew works on the environmentally-themed Gift of Love. Photo: Courtesy of Sun Xudong

Sun Xudong is a busy and committed film director and scriptwriter. But he is a long way from Hollywood. By day Sun is a doctor in the rehabilitation department of the Shanghai Shunchang Hospital, a public hospital that specializes in aged care in the city's Huangpu district.

At night, in his spare time and over weekends he is a director. He doesn't make films with car chases, guns being fired, impossible heroes and sexy women. His latest film is called Baby, Sorry and is about how a young man saves a child's life by donating stem cells to help her fight cancer. But he only does this after persuading his parents that this will not harm him personally and will help the little girl. The film is one of the new breeds of microfilm and will be screened online probably in January when it is completed and will then be accessible on a range of Internet portals.

It is also based on true stories that director Sun became involved with. Zhang Yujia was a bright and happy 5-year-old girl who suddenly and inexplicably collapsed one day at her kindergarten. Tests revealed she was suffering from leukemia.

She was given chemotherapy but her condition worsened until a stem cell donor was found in another city. This young man was willing to provide the stem cells needed to save the girl's life but first he and the doctors had to persuade his traditionally-minded and over-protective parents that this was a good and safe thing to do.

In reality, the girl received the treatment and recovered. Sun's film, however, has a bleaker ending inspired by another case where parents had forbidden a son to transplant stem cells and a child died for lack of treatment.

"For the film I was inspired by the son of one of my teachers. The boy died of the disease because the man whose stem cells matched and who could have saved him could not convince his parents to allow the transplant," Sun said.

The making of Baby, Sorry started in November and Sun and his team - office workers by day and filmmakers by night - have been deeply involved in all aspects of the shoot since then. They are united in the belief that it is important to make the film to try to raise public awareness of the facts about stem cell donations.

Sharing wisdom

The Shanghai born 29-year-old Sun has been helping other people for many years now and uses his position as secretary of the Youth League Committee at the hospital to promote good public health care.

As a middle school student he used to occasionally visit nursing homes to play chess with some of the elderly residents. His visits became regular and he began helping tidy the rooms or bring the elderly fruit. "I felt happy because they had so much to tell me and so much wisdom to share," he said.

Since then he has been active in many different ways but usually winding up helping others. He was fond of reading and theater and at university set up a literature club and a drama club. The drama club became a success and he persuaded members to give performances in nursing homes and cancer patient rehabilitation centers.

Last year Sun established a photography club with friends and colleagues and then proposed something different. "Making homemade music videos is growing in popularity on the Internet, so why don't we help those who cannot make them?" he asked.

He and other members advertised on bulletin boards in universities and eventually helped dozens of people make their own music videos. "Everyone has his or her own little dream and I am glad to be the one that help them realize this," Sun said.

Based on the success of the music video, he decided to try making longer more involved films, a proposal that won support from his friends. With little experience in the field, he did his own research and formed a team of 15 who became actors, directors, cameramen, producers and technical staff and they made their first film in March, a microfilm about environmental concerns that appeared on the Internet. In May there was another film about a young man's journey seeking a mysterious girl who had helped him years beforehand and in August the team made a film about a doctor who gave up the chance of a prestigious award and left his pregnant wife at home in Shanghai while he rushed to Sichuan to help victims of the earthquake there.

A constant battle

For Sun and his team funding is a constant problem. Unlike other microfilms, which screened on the Internet but were funded with sponsorship, advertising or product placement, the team has to raise the money for filming by themselves. Although some of the team have bought the high-definition camera they use, Sun has to find alternative sources to help pay for other aspects of filmmaking.

He has some involvement with government departments who occasionally contribute to the films - but only if the films include public messages relating to topics approved by the departments. He has to negotiate the inclusion of some of these messages as he tried to keep his own plotlines and characters true to the original concepts.

Even with this funding and with his cast and crew working for nothing, Sun tries to keep the budget for each film under 10,000 yuan ($1,587).

To save money, most of the scenes for the films are set in parks, sidewalks, or offices where the crew members work. They provide their own props and costumes.

Sun admits he does not expect that his amateur film will attract a huge audience or change everyone's mind about stem cell transplants but he and the team will continue to make films like this and they believe things will get better and better.

Sun said he spends more time and energy finding the right people to take part in the films. "I spend all my spare time finding and meeting people with the expertise we need. Some join us immediately, some I have to persuade. And some I haven't managed to find yet."

Sun told the Global Times that he wants to make public welfare his career in life though at this stage he is uncertain about how he can do this. "I will take one step at a time. I need to explore other ways to find the people I want to help and the people who can help me."

Altering attitudes

Yu Jin is the deputy director-general of the Shanghai Youth Community NGO Service Center, a nonprofit intermediary organization that helps youth groups and is supervised by the China Communist Youth League Shanghai Committee. She said the problem for many volunteer groups like Sun's microfilm team lay not just in the lack of information but also importantly in attitudes.

"Many volunteers have a sense of individualistic heroism. They think what they have done is the best thing for the recipients instead of thinking about what the people really need," Yu told the Global Times.

She said that after governmental structural reforms, many services have been outsourced, leaving a lot of room for the development of NGOs.

Last year a survey the center conducted, interviewing 600 residents in Yangpu district, found the services people needed most were home-based care for the elderly, followed by legal aid and home appliance repairs. "Sadly, very few organizations provide these services," she said.

By the end of 2011, Shanghai had more than 10,000 registered nongovernmental organizations, of which 1,500 were engaged in charity work. As well the number of registered volunteers had reached 1.1 million, of whom roughly 30 percent were from local communities, the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau reported.

There were also many unregistered groups like Sun's microfilm team. Yu estimated there were at least 10 times the number of active groups like this over the number of registered groups. "In China if your organization wants to be registered, you need a deposit of 100,000 yuan as registered capital and a governing body, usually a government department or a State-owned enterprise, and this is why small groups are not registered," Yu said.

She said even with this relatively large base, the overall quality of NGOs and volunteers was far from ideal.

"In the UK, I have seen many NGOs raising tens of millions of pounds in revenue every year but here many still think making any profit is shameful." Yu believes this old-fashioned concept has stopped a lot of groups from growing and becoming more professional.

The center has been trying to put the right organizations in touch with the people who need them. It has contacted and created profiles for some 650 of the city's unregistered NGOs, most of them run by young people, and matched them with local communities who need assistance. To date, 23 have signed deals and begun to work with local residents.

Innovation and openness

Membership of clubs and charity groups in Shanghai has grown exceptionally recently. Yu estimates that there are at least more than 100,000 members of sports clubs and there are more than 100 motoring clubs in Shanghai. The center is encouraging members of these clubs to help with charity work as well and Yu believes the key to success with this lies in innovation and openness.   

On May 5, some 2,000 young volunteers suddenly presented themselves around the city, in subway stations, plazas and on the streets, seeking donations to buy spectacles for the children of the city's migrant workers. More than 260,000 yuan was collected within two hours. Before the event, Yu, the mastermind, and her colleagues had contacted some 300 youth organizations, asking them to mobilize their members and promote the event on Weibo.

On the day, many of the youth groups competed with each other trying to collect more donations and the event became one of the top 10 topics discussed on Weibo that day. "The magic thing about social media is once the rules have been laid down and the event launched, you never know what will happen next."    

Another key is being open. Yu said it was made clear that all the donations would be used to buy spectacles for the children and the balance sheet was published online after the event.


Posted in: Metro Shanghai

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