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August 21, 2009

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Cameras roll as a former teacher goes back to school

INDEPENDENT film maker Zhao Xun put her experience in the classroom to good use when she chose China's education system as the subject for a documentary, writes Yao Minji.

China's education system has always been a hot topic. Discussions about the gap between school education and practical knowledge often attract attention.

Many people, including scholars and experts, often blame many children's problems - lack of creativity, addiction to games, indifference to extracurricular activities - on the current education system.

Many independent film makers also direct their video cameras to focus on schools, students and teachers - be it a documentary or feature film.

"Two Seasons" by 27-year-old Zhao Xun is another independent documentary about schools. Interestingly, Zhao hides the regular protagonist - the education system - and directs audiences' attention to the primary human relations between teachers, students and parents.

The 142-minute documentary is shot in a middle school in Wuhan, capital city of Hubei Province, where Zhao used to teach Chinese. She left to study film at the Beijing Film Academy and decided to go back to the school for her graduation work.

"I often think about my work and life as a teacher and ponder on the details of that period. I try to find out the largest problem of today's education system through my experience as a middle school teacher. I often wonder about the best way to conduct family education and school education," says Zhao.

The scenes and characters from "Two Seasons" can easily remind many audiences of their school times when they confronted the same trouble as students and the same pressure from their teachers and parents.

In China, academic scores are usually the foremost factor for a student as they are often the most important or even the only criteria in life's turning points. They determine whether one can get into a good university or can get a good job.

Although frequently discussed and criticized, mainstream opinion still equates high scores with good students. It is often considered that only those failing to get high scores try to explore their interests in other fields, such as arts, sports or music.

And such value puts pressure on everyone - students, parents and teachers. Parents get worried about their children's future and potential if they can't score high marks in all subjects. Students fear pressure from their parents, and teachers are also forced to evaluate their students through their scores.

All this is depicted in "Two Seasons," with minimum subjective opinions from the director.

Although Zhou started with doubts about the current education system, they only play a small part in the finished result. The film follows the lives of some students, teachers and parents in the middle school in a natural way.

The camera is almost unnoticeable in most parts of the film and it is difficult to detect a message from the director - it isn't a clear criticism of the system like many similar films.

Zhao says she has switched her emphasis on human relations in education through the process of making "Two Seasons."

"I care most about communication and exchanges, obstacles and estrangements, as well as individual personalities," Zhao says. "I don't hope to get a lot of responses, but I do hope to present some reality to my audiences."


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