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Tracking COVID-19 at UCLA2020 Racial Injustice Protests

Film student seeks to tell a human story of resilience in crowdsourced documentary

Third-year film student Pius Kung is pulling footage filmed by people around the world as they document life in quarantine. (Amy Zhang/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Vivian Xu

April 28, 2020 6:02 pm

Correction: The original version of this headline incorrectly stated Pius Kung is an alumnus. In fact, he is a third-year film student.

This post was updated April 29 at 2:19 p.m.

Pius Kung is passing a camera around the world – metaphorically, of course.

The third-year film student is creating a documentary that showcases the various ways people are adapting to life under quarantine. To combat the fact that he cannot physically film each of his participants, Kung is recruiting volunteers to film themselves at home in an attempt to crowdsource footage through various social media platforms. Those who are interested can send him footage that he will compose into a unified documentary, he said.

“This is kind of new for us,” Kung said. “We humans are used to going out to do things, and now everything’s online – it’s kind of like a new mode of living. My documentary is just trying to show how people deal with it.”

[Related: Student aims to foster artistic expression in UCLA community, even during pandemic]

The only explicit instruction Kung said he gave participants is to film how they are dealing with life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Other than that, he said the volunteers have their own freedom to decide what they include in their submissions. Since his initial posts, Kung has received a wide variety of footage, from cooking to creating TikToks. Many participants have also chosen to simply send videos of themselves discussing their feelings on the current situation.

Kung said he hopes to present diverse perspectives by obtaining footage from people in different countries. His social media posts have reached his home back in Australia, inspiring his friend, Juliette Wright, to participate. Her occupation as an essential worker at Bunnings Warehouse, a hardware store, allows her to present an uncommon experience, she said, as her job permits her to take brief breaks from complete isolation.

“I’d say I have (a more balanced) life at the moment because I can go out and socialize with people at my work, but then I also have to stay at home,” Wright said. “I get to talk a little bit more about what I’ve been doing, instead of what I can’t do.”

(Catherine Xie/Daily Bruin)
(Catherine Xie/Daily Bruin)

Aside from being able to unite a large quantity of seemingly disconnected people, Kung said the crowdsourcing technique also lets him create a more nonlinear documentary. A traditional documentary possesses a narrative that pushes the story through a climax and into a resolution, a quality that Kung said he is trying to avoid. Rather, he said the collection of footage tells a story all on its own.

“The idea of crowdsourcing is that it’s from so many people and you don’t necessarily need a narrative to tell people something,” Kung said. “I’m using the power of ensemble … to show the audience that a lot of people have an issue without having to say it.”

Not only are the experiences in each submission distinctive, Kung said, but the lighting, angle and movement in each clip is different as well. He said he did not give specific preferences for the cinematography of the submissions, as he is not placing too much emphasis on artistic filming, for the sake of crowdsourcing. However, after creating a rough cut of all the footage he has received so far, Kung said he found that a landscape orientation and a shaky camera can deliver an engaging story more effectively than stable images, which are less interactive.

[Related: Bruin Origami For All folds paper into hope in online Zoom sessions]

Though Kung does not have complete control over how each submission is filmed, he said his role as the editor gives him the ultimate authority, since it is up to him to decide how the videos will be spliced together. The clips can be grouped based on common themes, Kung said, like shots of empty streets or more emotional videos of people expressing their feelings. By locating and tracing a common thread that unites the videos, he said he will be able to craft a cohesive documentary.

“It’s all based on (how) people (film) their footage because I’m trying to give them more agency,” Kung said. “At the same time, it also shows different people do different things – it shows the (versatility) between people.”

Each submission contributes to a grand overall product while also conveying its own story, Kung said. Katelyn Darrow, a fourth-year anthropology and gender studies student, sent a video sharing her experience as a first-generation college student missing out on graduation, a tale that she said is all too familiar for her fellow students. As a worker for a catering company, Darrow said she – like many others – has also lost her source of income.

“I hope that my contribution will resonate with other people, whether they are also out of work at this time or are experiencing a loss of events (like graduation),” Darrow said. “Perhaps by sharing my experience, they’ll feel a little less alone in this pandemic.”

By stitching together the videos he receives, Kung said he hopes that he can create an observational documentary that avoids criticizing how the COVID-19 pandemic was dealt with or preaching an overarching message. Instead, he said the focus is upon the resilience of human beings during uncertain times.

“(I want) to show people how humans deal with different types of situations flexibly, how humans can come up with interesting or creative ways … to deal with the change of life,” Kung said. “I am not trying to deliver a message – I just want people to know.”

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Vivian Xu | Assistant Arts editor
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