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Samantha Zhang ’25 Nominated for Best Young Filmmaker at Indie Short Fest
Greg Kwasnik

For the first 12 years of her life, Samantha Zhang ’25 lived in Inner Mongolia, the Chinese autonomous region that borders Mongolia. It’s a region famous for its vast grasslands, deserts, and nomadic herders - so when Samantha moved to Beijing for middle school, her new classmates had questions.
“The first question they asked me is ‘Did you guys ride a horse to school?” Samantha says. “I was like ‘No, we do the same thing as you guys - we have cars, we have good restaurants, we have malls, we have very regular schools.’ They were kind of shocked.”
This year, Samantha decided to do something to educate her peers, both Chinese and American, about her home region. As soon as she returned home from Holderness last summer, she set out with a local videographer to make “Heritage,” a 15-minute film about Inner Mongolia. This fall, the film was nominated for Best Young Filmmaker and the Best Student Short at the prestigious Indie Short Fest, a Los Angeles-based international film competition.
Samantha says her parents were the ones who inspired her to explore her Inner Mongolian heritage, and to share it with others. “It's my parents who told me ‘It's the thing you should know and you should spread to more people. That’s part of your culture. That’s part of your identity,’” Samantha says.
In the film, Samantha, who grew up in Bayan Nur City, travels to the Urad Middle Banner, a rural area home to rich grasslands that have sustained nomadic herders for millennia. There, she interviews a man named Delger, a Mongolian from Urad who began his early life as a herder on the grasslands until, like so many Inner Mongolians in the middle part of the 20th century, he moved to the city with his family. Delger, a collector of traditional Inner Mongolian artifacts, shows Samantha many beautiful items - from silver bowls and chopsticks to elegant and elaborate headdresses. He also explains to Samantha the many challenges facing today’s Inner Mongolian herders - with restrictions on pastures and grazing being a particularly modern stressor. The situation is made worse when droughts occur, which force the herders to purchase grass to feed to their animals. As a result, many herders end up in debt. 
Later in the film, Samantha visits a traditional herding community, where she watches young children race horses as part of an Aobao ceremony – a Mongolian tradition that reflects the culture’s reverence for nature. Look closely, and you’ll even see a clip of Samantha riding a horse – but not to school.
It’s a beautiful and moving film – a project that took Samantha and her videographer months to make. Samantha wrote the script, conducted the interviews, edited the footage, narrated the film in Mandarin and then translated her narration into English subtitles. It was a lot of work for one summer vacation – but, Samantha says, it was worth it. Not only did the film help Samantha discover a new passion – she may study media and communications in college – but it allowed her to tell the story of her home and its people.
“They cannot come to Holderness and tell this story to other people. But I have that chance – I have that opportunity,” Samantha says. “It’s kind of my responsibility to express these kinds of things to more people - to tell the stories that other people cannot tell.”

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