Going to Sundance

Mar 31 2017
Written by NYU Shanghai

A short film about a Chinese high school teacher directed by an NYU graduate has been selected for the Sundance Film Festival, one of the most prestigious independent film showcases held in the US. Joe Pichirallo, Chair of the Undergraduate Film & Television program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts gave a special preview screening of the film by Matthew Zhao at NYU Shanghai on March 18.

Zhao’s film A Test, tells the story of Mr. Chen, a Chinese high school teacher confronted with a moral dilemma affecting the future of one of the school’s most promising students, days before college entrance exams. Tangled into the drama are the student’s sister and Mr. Chen’s family. 

Ahead the screening, Pichirallo gave an introduction to the independent movie industry, and used film trailers as an example to pit independent films against the pre-existing hype of blockbusters like Avengers: Infinity War or Moonlight, the 2016 Academy Award winner for Best Picture.

He applauded independent filmmakers for relying not on the heavy financial support of big named studios and investors but on crafting original, character-driven stories that delve into what it is to be human.

Following the screening, Zhao shared some personal challenges he faced during the filming process, like using Weibo as a talent search to find professional actors to work with.

Shooting scenes at a local school dormitory on their first day, Zhao and his crew were shut down by an embarrassed headmaster, who felt the boys’ rooms were too “messy” to be revealed. The film crew was forced to vacate the premise and start from scratch. Also, because of final exams, Zhao’s team only had three days to make the most of shooting at another high school location in Shandong, and weren’t able to capture the final scene.

Despite its abrupt ending, A Test still reached its audience with a silent scene showing the Gaokao banner, and its layered representation in the film as a test of people’s hearts and a test to the ‘system’.

Professor Pichirallo concluded that the film was a great illustration of the dilemma between choosing one’s family or future.