Jiayan “Jenny” Shi saw herself in Yingying Zhang, the young woman who disappeared from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s campus in June 2017. Shi decided to pick up a camera and follow the Zhang family’s quest for truth and justice, thousands of miles away from their home in China.
The project started as a class project while Shi was a graduate student at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. She later participated in the Diverse Voices in Docs program, organized by Kartemquin Films and the Community Film Workshop of Chicago.
The film, “Finding Yingying,” which will be available to stream anywhere in the U.S. today (Oct. 14) as part of the Chicago International Film Festival, won the 2020 Breakthrough Voice award at the prestigious SXSW film festival, among other honors.
“What I want viewers to take away after they watch the film is to get to know more about who Yingying was as a person and not as a victim of a heinous crime,” Shi said.
Brent E. Huffman, associate professor at Medill, joined as a producer and helped shape the project into a feature-length film.
“I worked closely with Jenny for the last three years to craft the narrative so that Yingying Zhang's story could reach a global audience,” Huffman said.
There will be a special Q&A with Huffman, Shi and the film’s cinematographer at 9 p.m. CDT on Friday, Oct. 16.
The Hollywood Reporter called the film “a deft portrait of a family on the razor’s edge between hope and dread.” Viacom/MTV Documentary Films also recently acquired the film and will handle its distribution.