Reviewed by Joann Pittman
Directed by Miao Wang, Three Waters Productions
China and USA; China release 2017, USA release 2018; 90 minutes
Mandarin and English with English subtitles
What happens when you take wealthy urban high school students and drop them down in a small town in Maine? That is the story of Maineland, a documentary film directed by Miao Yang.
Maineland follows two Chinese students, Zhu Xinyi (Stella) and He Junru (Harry) as they pursue their dreams of an American education, and by extension, a bright and prosperous future—not in a tony school in the Upper Westside of Manhattan, but in a boarding school in a Maine village.
Leaving behind the hustle and bustle of urban life, as well as the rigid conformity of the Chinese educational system, they encounter the quiet and isolation of rural life, as well as a more open style of education that emphasizes critical thinking and individualism.
We see them enjoy the great outdoors and struggle through classroom discussions.
We see them participate in school life and at the same time seek comradery with the other Chinese students.
We see them embrace some aspects of American life and culture while trying to retain their own.
Like many Chinese movies, the most compelling messages are conveyed, not with words, but with visuals. Hence, there are long stretches of images of Chinese urban life juxtaposed with images of rural Maine.
While Stella and Harry are, ostensibly, the main characters, their presence at Fryeburg Academy, one of the oldest schools in Maine, is clearly being driven by the needs and actions of the other main characters—the school itself and the parents.
Fryeburg Academy needs to enroll international students for financial reasons, and thus recruits heavily among China’s wealthy elite. The parents, convinced that an American education is the path to success for their children, are the ones deciding their children should study abroad. It is for the family.
The students, then, are playing their parts, not only in the stories of their families, but in the story of the school, and the story of Sino-American relations.
Much has been written lately about the influx of Chinese students into American schools, both public and private. This film is a fascinating look behind the scenes of this phenomenon.
Image credit: Maineland.
Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio