Plastic Not-so-Fantastic

April 24, 2019
Editor: Ling Xiao

Plastic not-so-fantastic

Beijing-based visual artist Kong Ning works on her eye-catching design for the fashion gala, a bridal gown made of used plastics and covered in plastic fish, at the recent inaugural Water Towns Environmental Film and Arts Festival organized by Duke Kunshan University. [For China Daily]


Experts, artists, students and performers raise awareness of the growing pollution threat during Duke Kunshan University's first Water Towns Environmental Film and Arts Festival.

Some of the biggest names in the world of conservation and wildlife protection converged in eastern China to attend Duke Kunshan University's inaugural Water Towns Environmental Film and Arts Festival.

Running from April 11 to 14, the event featured 61 independent documentary films from 16 countries, a "trashion" - a portmanteau of trash and fashion - gala and guest lectures by academics, artists, policymakers and designers on topics ranging from smog art and eco-cinema to the zero-waste movement and plastics recycling.

The event officially opened with a red carpet reception for special guests, including Steve Blake, chief China representative of international NGO WildAid, and professor Stuart Pimm, a world-renowned expert on present-day extinctions and efforts to prevent them.

This was followed by a screening of Saving the Porpoise, a movie that follows Chinese pianist Lang Lang as he uncovers the tragic story of Mexico's disappearing vaquita porpoise.

"Movies are not like advertisements. People see a movie on plastics, or one of our films on wildlife, or on climate change, and it really plants a seed. They leave an impression," says Blake, whose NGO targets the illegal trade of wildlife and animal parts.

"It's impossible not to want to change something about your life after seeing some of these films."

Activities on the first three days were held on the university's picturesque campus in Kunshan, Jiangsu province, with an awards ceremony on the final day, held in the ancient Jinxi water town.

Homeland: Stories from Sanjiangyuan, a seven-minute Chinese production about herdsmen helping protect Nyanpo Yuzee National Park, received the Jinxi Prize for best short film, while the award for best student film went to first-year undergraduate Wang Xiaonan for Beryl's One Week, which highlighted the use of plastics in everyday life.

"I was really surprised to win," says Wang, from Wuxi, Jiangsu. "I hope our film can make people pay attention to recycling plastic and reducing plastic in their daily lives."

In addition to movie screenings, students from Duke Kunshan University also took part in a workshop led by Beijing-based performance artist Kong Ning on contemporary "trashion", which involves making clothing from nontoxic, nonorganic household and industrial garbage. They also received coaching from Francis Sollano, an internationally acclaimed fashion designer and artist from the Philippines.


Plastic not-so-fantastic

Student filmmaker Wang Xiaonan walks to the stage to collect the best student film prize for her short movie Beryl's One Week. [For China Daily]


Their efforts culminated in a visually stunning outdoor, nighttime fashion gala that saw Kong as well as students and faculty pose in garments made from old banners, netting and discarded plastic bottles, accompanied by the sounds of saxophonist Li Tieqiao, who is regarded by many as one of the best free jazz musicians in China.

Krista McJarrow-Keller, a first-year undergraduate student from New Zealand who helped organize the festival, says she believes art and cultural events are essential to changing the way people talk about environmental and ecological conservation.

"They bring emotion into the conversation," she says. "Too often the environment is discussed in economic, scientific or utilitarian terms, and not in the terms of the homes of generations of people being destroyed, or a species lost forever. These events can actually motivate people to do something, to press issues rather than just argue about them."

The theme for the film festival was Waste Plastics, and the schedule included multiple award-winning works on the subject, including A Plastic Ocean from the Netherlands, Albatross from the United States, and Oceans: The Mystery of the Missing Plastic from France.

To ensure the event had a lasting effect, organizers also promoted The Pledge, which saw almost 100 people sign up to a joint commitment to living more environmentally sustainable lives.

"Art not only stimulates the senses but can be crucial in spreading important messages about the issues facing our world today, and this is especially true when talking about global environmental challenges," says festival director Miguel Rojas-Sotelo, an art historian and professor at Duke Kunshan University.

"This year, our films focused on plastic pollution and the danger it poses to ecology and the food chain, but, by encouraging our festival-goers to sign a pledge to live greener lives, we hope the message will resonate long after the films' end credits roll."


(Source: China Daily)

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