The Coast News Group
Jonah Gercke premieres his documentary “China Ridge,” on his 16th birthday. Gercke filmed his documentary during a trip to China last May. Courtesy photo
Jonah Gercke premieres his documentary “China Ridge,” on his 16th birthday. Gercke filmed his documentary during a trip to China last May. Courtesy photo
ArtsRancho Santa Fe

Carlsbad teen makes documentary about China travels

CARLSBAD — At the time most kids are learning how to drive, Pacific Ridge High School student Jonah Gercke was focusing on raising enough funds to travel to China and film a documentary.

The 16-year-old started an Indiegogo campaign to fund his travels to China with his school and to purchase the necessary equipment to produce the documentary, “China Ridge.”

He raised $4,700 from more than 70 donors, most of whom Gercke said, knew him or his parents.

He was able to buy a new DSLR camera, editing software, storage cards and to actually pay for the two-week journey to China he took at the end of last May with his school.

Without the donations, Gercke said, he wouldn’t have been able to go.

“I realized what a risk (the donors) took on me and what a chance they took on me, and I’m incredibly grateful for their support and for helping ‘China Ridge’ happen and for trusting me to deliver on that promise,” Gercke said.

Pacific Ridge has been taking ninth graders to China for seven years according to Nia Jonesz, Communications Assistant at Pacific Ridge.

Students spend time in a homestay, living with Chinese families in Shanghai

They also help local children in Shangri-La learn English vocabulary, like colors, animals and food.

Gercke said it was difficult without having a grasp of the Chinese language but colors were easier, since pointing at a picture of a color easily gets the message across.

“It was a great time teaching the kids. I had a lot of fun there,” said Gercke.

During the first part of the trip, he said he stressed himself out thinking about the footage he needed, getting the right amount and style of footage, and time management.

Then he said he told himself “‘I’m also here to go to China so I also need to experience the trip and enjoy the trip as well.’ And by virtue of that I became less stressed and by virtue of becoming less stressed the documentary became better in the process. It became much more fun,” Gercke said.

He was struck by how many similarities there were in the culture. The teenager he stayed with during the homestay listens to American music, including Jay-Z, Kanye West and One Direction.

Also, the transportation in Shanghai reminded him of the subway systems in New York.

A huge portion of the ninth grade class traveled to China and six groups were split into about 15 to 20 students with two chaperones.

Gercke allowed his group to tell the story in the 65-minute long documentary.

The film does not use any narration, which is a point Gercke said was difficult, but he is very proud of. He was also proud of the reception the film received from the students on the trip at the premiere earlier this month.

He became interested in filmmaking at a young age. His parents ran New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad Village, which influenced him to act in a play at 5 years old.

Gercke hopes to intern on some major productions in the future to see how big-budget films are made. He is also open to the idea of attending film school.

The film will be available for purchase online soon and Gercke has given copies of the DVD to his donors and said the sales have been good thus far.