Yuanchen Liu, a 2010 graduate of New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, has been awarded the Margaret Mead Filmmaker Award for his documentary, “To the Light,” which chronicles the lives of miners in Sichuan, China.
The award was announced at the 35th annual Margaret Mead Film & Video Festival, held November 11 to 13 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The Margaret Mead Filmmaker Award recognizes documentary filmmakers whose work “displays artistic excellence and originality of technique while offering a new perspective on a culture or community remote from the majority of the festival audiences’ experience.”
Liu was a graduate student in the Carter Journalism Institute’s News and Documentary program. “To the Light” was his master’s thesis film. The film’s score was composed by another NYU student, Edward Underhill, who graduated from the Scoring for Film and Multimedia program in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.
“To the Light” takes an intimate look at a community struggling to survive in hard economic times. For many, coal mining has become a principal source of income and the only alternative to factory jobs in distant cities. In the documentary, Liu overcomes the challenges presented by filming underground and provides access to what would have otherwise been an untold story. For more about Liu’s debut feature-length documentary, click here.
Liu is from Wuhan, China. He worked as a journalist and photographer in China before moving to the United States to pursue a master’s degree in journalism at NYU’s Carter Journalism Institute. He has directed several short documentaries, including a 30-minute piece about the financial struggles of the Harlem School of the Arts.
The 2011 award jury was led by the Academy Award-nominated director of “Black Swan”, Darren Aronofsky, who was joined by Karen Cooper, director of New York City’s Film Forum; Liz Garbus, Academy Award-nominated director of “Bobby Fischer Against the World”; and Stanley Nelson, director of the Emmy-winning documentary “The Murder of Emmett Till”.
“Everything unfolded just so quickly,” Liu said, describing his reaction to the announcement of his award. “I was talking to a magazine writer about my film and we were all waiting for the announcement. I didn't prepare anything, absolutely nothing. And Darren Aronofsky went onto the stage, started to comment on the award. He said, ‘It's a film about a place that we've never seen before, and it's a film that everyone should see,’ and he quickly said, ‘To the Light.’ I jumped out of my chair and went up to the stage, shook hands with Darren, and he delivered the award to me.
“I was so excited and elated and almost cried. The images of living in that village for four months with the miners and following them to the underground—everything just flowed into my mind.”
The Carter Journalism Institute’s News and Documentary program is directed by Marcia Rock. NYU Steinhardt’s Scoring for Film and Multimedia graduate program, part of the Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions, is directed by Ron Sadoff. Sadoff has scored five of Rock’s documentaries, including her award-winning “Daughters of The Troubles: Belfast Stories”.