Like the archetypal gathering of “four” heroes found in myths and folk tales the Nu Wa film crew gathered: Doug Banner and Kelvin Saxton (Bellingham WA), Arif Choudhury (Northbrook, IL), and Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo (San Francisco, CA). Each brought their special insight, talent and dedication to add energy to the prolonged efforts of creating a film based on the experiences of Eth-Noh-Tec’s storytelling and cultural exchanges that had gone to China over the many years since 2002.
With over 150 hours of video footage, from shots of the Gengcun traditional storytelling community to the interviews of American storytellers trekking the Great Wall it has been a daunting task to review and log the many hours of video recordings. Now the primary task was to ask ourselves “what is the message we’re trying to convey with the film?” But in order to answer this and lay the foundation for the film’s storyboard we needed to ask ourselves many questions.
What was the original intention of the project? Who’s voice shall ‘tell’ this story? Can the myth of Nu Wa, the Chinese Goddesss who created humans, be used to tell this story? Why is the story of this cultural exchange Americans and Chinese important? Why should we care about this storytelling project?
It became clear that the singular voice that would guide us through the film’s story would be through the personal journey of Nancy Wang. The fact that she grew up in the segregated South in the early 1940’s and spent decades in a personal search and discovery of Asian American identity through the Arts (and storytelling) offered the right vehicle to carry the weight of issues: racism, identity of self, stereotypes, East-West tension and U.S.-China relations.
Fueled with morning coffee and armed with dry erase boards and pens, note pads, stick’em notes, blue masking tape and butcher paper taped to the wall we set about the process of answering these questions to create our storyboard.
At first, the fervor and creative synergy of four people working together with a singular purpose moved our work forward at a rapid pace. But as the week wore on the challenge of creativity leaned into an incline of deeper inquiry: Can this traditional storytelling village survive the rapid social changes of China? How do we convey “hope for the future” without being too polyannish? Could we, as an external cultural group make a sustainable impact that would have long lasting internal effects on the local village level?
As the summit came to a close we came to several important conclusions:
1) We had created at least 80-90% of the basic story
2) We had enough structure to get 70% the story roughed out with images assigned; we also knew that what we lacked in video footage we could make up with photo stills
3) We knew that the storyline would be a fusion of Nancy’s personal search for identity, combined with the collective cultural discoveries of the other Nu Wa Gems (on the trip).
4) the last one third of the film’s story (the lead up to the final statement) would show be a series of deeper questions (possibly unanswerable) that would set up the tension between ‘preservation’ and ‘change’ (i.e. the dilemma facing this traditional village vs modernity).
5) we also believe that the video images themselves would begin unfold it’s message. We agreed we need to be pliable, adaptable, and flexible—and allow our visual/symbolic intuition to work it’s magic into the film.
In addition to this we declared a commitment to regular communications and set dates on the calendar. Assignments and homework were created, each tapping into our various skills. Finally we created a mini-video fundraising pitch, with one of our first goals: raise funds for a much needed film-making software, Final Cut Pro (for Macs). All in all it was an extremely productive summit that will move our efforts to our final destination: a documentary about the Nu Wa storytelling project!
This summer a young high school student, Angela Huang from Bellingham, WA wanted to find a community service project as part of her high school graduate requirement. By way of her Chinese language school she heard of film project that involved Chinese-to-English language translation. Eventually she found herself in a meeting with Doug Banner, founder of the Bellingham Storytelling Guild and associate of the Nu Wa Film Project.
Once again Eth-Noh-Tec will be conducting a storytelling workshop—but this time with a set of several challenges. 100 high school students (that’s a lot of hormones!) who will learn storytelling techniques to be able to tell stories in Chinese language (we don“t speak the language!), all of taking place in Beijing in the chill of oncoming Winter (brrrrrr!). during a two week residency in November of this year, Eth-Noh-Tec will be working with the International School of Beijing.
This will be the fourth time Eth-Noh-Tec has worked with ISB. In previous visits, ENT curated over a dozen storytellers to presented 33 workshops and teacher in-services, assemblies and community concerts for the families of this prestigious school. Many of the families in these schools have parents working for the foreign service, diplomatic core, and international business community.
Besides offering students storytelling programming, our long range goal is to create cultural inroads and experiences for the students, who surprisingly, rarely do outreach programs into the surrounding Chinese community. In the September 2010, ENT conducted storytelling classes and prepared a small core of a dozen students from ISB to present storytelling of Chinese folk tales to the Gengcun community. It was a great joy to see the young people speaking Chinese and performing storytelling to the audience of storytellers in this traditional community. The older master storytellers were especially pleased as they all feel strongly about passing on the oral tradition to the younger generation.
We are hoping that by bringing ISB students, along with visiting students from the Bellingham Chinese Language School on field-trips to the Gengcun village we can build a strong Storytelling Youth Ambassadorship component to our exchange delegations. In addition, we hope that the participating teachers and the parents will strengthen their understanding of storytelling and the important role it can play in preserving cultural heritage.
If you have interests in being a part of the Nu Wa project, as a storytelling delegate, a donor to the youth ambassadorship or film project, or even to submit creative ideas to empower our work, feel free to contact us.