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Graduate Student Film Premiering at Cannes

woman stands at end of dark tunnel with sea behind her, man walks toward camera in tunnel
A scene from Yingtong Li’s Feng Zheng.

Graduate student Yingtong Li’s short film, Feng Zheng (The Silent Whistle) recently was chosen to premiere at the 75th Annual Cannes Film Festival, marking what may be the first time an Emerson MFA student film has been selected for that festival.

“I grew up in a small seaside city in southern China. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with all kinds of stories from my parents, stories about the sea, about people and life in a small town. I got inspiration from those stories and develop it into a script, that’s how Feng Zheng came to be,” Li said.

The film follows 19-year-old Ming, who reluctantly agrees to attend a dinner with her neighbor, Rui. The narrative short is 18 minutes long, confronting themes of grief and recovery in new and thought-provoking ways.

“She developed a distinct vision and approach, something that is not terribly mainstream or commercial. Instead, it’s a very moving examination of grief and isolation,” said Professor Marc Fields, Li’s thesis reader.

two men speak on balcony covered in crumbling tile
Feng Zheng (The Silent Whistle).

Fields recalled first working with Li in VM605: Graduate Writing Short Subject, and again in VM604: Topics in Media Production: Hybrid Documentary. His role as her thesis reader included helping to structure the project proposal, script, and artist statements. He also offered critical feedback for editing in post-production.

“Working with Li was really easy because she always tried to push it to the next level and responded well to feedback and suggestions,” Fields said.

Fields also acknowledged the difficulties of the project, especially as the entire film was shot and edited in China, during the pandemic. “It’s impressive to see what Li’s managed to accomplish under these very difficult circumstances,” he observed.

Li addressed these difficulties. “The film was shot in April 2021. We had six days of shooting in Guangzhou, China, and one day in Nanao Island, Shantou City. We had a very tough time during preproduction with location scouting, casting, and budget management. Luckily, our shooting went on smoothly,” she said.

When asked what she hopes people take away from the film, she said, “Let … nature take its course. It’s OK to be sad and to be evasive, you are not alone, everyone has tough [times].”

a man and woman talk on a rooftop at night
Feng Zheng (The Silent Whistle)

Reflecting on the experience as a whole, Li is excited to have the opportunity to showcase her work and tell such a unique, intimate story. “I feel truly honored and grateful,” she said.

Feng Zheng has also been nominated for the Queer Palm, an independently sponsored prize for LGBT-related films screening at Cannes. The festival runs from May 17 to May 28.

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