The world-premiere doc is 2nd in Miao Wang’s trilogy.

Director Miao Wang spent three years filming Maineland, her documentary about the experience of two Chinese students attending Maine’s Fryeburg Academy. This follow-up to Beijing Taxi (which also screened at SXSW) continues her exploration of Chinese/American relations and the changing Chinese culture. Despite her confessed challenge of working with high school kids, a couple of Chinese families allowed remarkable access to the director and her crew as their children transferred to the American boarding school to complete their high school education.

Stella is a social butterfly from Shanghai who goes into her Fryeburg interview assuming that the school experience in the USA is something out of “High School Musical.” Harry, from Guangzhou, is far more sedate and reserved. Neither expect the cultural differences that face them at their new school: not only are they made to communicate in a less-familiar tongue and learn American history, but both come from booming metropolises with millions of residents to this quiet town in rural Maine.

We see in Maineland, and director Wang explained after the Sunday night festival screening, the difficulties these International students have integrating with their American counterparts. When half of the International students at the school are Chinese (according to the demographics of the Academy as the film closes in 2015), how necessary is it for these students to befriend Americans? And if they limit their social interactions with other students, just how beneficial is this overseas education?

The director told us that the final cut was only completed a week ago — perhaps this is the reason for the lulling pace near the end? The scoring by Stephen Ulrich and HD cinematography complement the story Wang is telling, both production elements serving to define the urban/rural and cultural divides. The visuals are stunning, whether showing us bright lights of a city immersed in fog (smog?) or moonlight on ripples of water in Maine.

It’s especially fascinating to note the gender expectations placed on Stella and Harry. Completing the phrase “An important goal for me…” on an introductory form, the teenage girl writes, “have a good husband.” Throughout the film, Stella frets about her weight — even her mother comments on it. Her father talks about the different dating situations of teens in China and America. Meanwhile, Harry speaks to his dad about his preference for the more “traditional” women of China; it’s difficult not to read between the lines of such a statement.

Although Maineland lets us into a limited period in Harry and Stella’s lives, we’re able to see some of their personal and intellectual growth. The Chinese kids retain the values their families instilled, but become something a little more during their time in Maine.

The last festival screening of Maineland is March 15, 4:45pm, at Alamo South Lamar.

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