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Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: documentary
Friday, 21 December 2012 14:46

Two Atayal villages on Taiwan East Coast

Jinyang Village

In February 2012, during the Chinese New Year Holidays, I went with Benoit Vermander and my brother to two Atayal villages on the East Coast of Taiwan: Jinyang village and Wutah. There I met again with two of the aboriginal students I accompanied to Canada for a cultural exchange in September 2011. We asked them to take us to the places and people which would represent and explain the best their Atayal traditions. 


Friday, 21 December 2012 11:54

From Tafalong to Honiara

The genesis of  the movie “Writings that Weave Waves”


It was in 2008 that I participated for the first time in the shooting of a documentary with the Ricci Institute:  during the month  of July of this year, as a small crew, we went to a village on the East coast of  Taiwan to follow a young Amis woman, Nakao Eki. She was engaged in research concerning aboriginal oral history, and as a part of her studies, she was returning for the first time in 7 years to Tafalong, an Amis village on Taiwan’s East coast (Hualien county) which is especially famous for its harvest festival. After two month of filming, editing, and post-production work, a movie was born: On the fifth day the sea tide rose…

Through the metaphor of the “tide”, the title already suggests the idea of Taiwan being shaped by waves. Indeed the title was chosen after one of the lines of an Amis song we recorded and which tells the legend of a mythical wave that brought to this place the  founding ancestors of Tafalong village. Besides this, the expression also reminds of the different waves that pound the shore of Taiwan: those of the ocean but also the waves of migration.


Thus, this very first movie experience not only introduced me to the basics of filming and editing but also to the aboriginal culture of Taiwan.  Indeed, the movie depicts the way the main character and her family deal individually and collectively with their history, and more precisely with the memory of their history. This first contact with the East Formosans already raised some questions about the way the aboriginals pictured in this movie related to the Pacific as the ocean is important in their legends and culture but they personally seemed to feel estranged to its physical existence.

At the same time, the Ricci Institute was following its shift towards the Pacific with the creation of the Taiwan Society for Pacific Studies (TSPS).  In September 2011, I had the chance to accompany the Ricci Institute in taking a group of 14 aboriginal students who were sent to Canada for a cultural exchange with the First Nations peoples (a project sponsored by the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Taiwan - CIP). I was  in charge of filming the trip. It was only 9 days but for some of the students it was the first time they had ever left Taiwan and despite the brevity of the trip it was a mind opening experience in a variety of ways.   First of all, they undeniably found more self-confidence , especially after the preparation for the trip for which they had to take classes on history, culture, dance and singing. They also bonded in special way with the aboriginals they met in Canada and one could feel a real kinship between them despite the fact that the cultures are not so similar at first glance.  In fact, it was through singing and dancing together that the connections between them really became clear. But at the same time, this experience also seemed to make some of them realize how much they were alienated from their own culture and traditions.

 
Two parallel concepts became the starting point of a new documentary:
1. How young Taiwanese aborigines relate to their own culture and how are their traditions and knowledge transmitted?
2. How do they relate in particular to the Pacific, is there only a global Pacific culture and what would be its features?

In the meanwhile, we were planning the conference and the idea of ‘weaving’ occurred naturally, after all, a movie can also be conceived as a patchwork of images woven together.  

I chose then to go visit two of the students who were part of the trip to Canada. And in February 2012, Benoit Vermander, my brother and I went to two Atayal villages located in Ilan County on Taiwan’s East coast: Jinyang and Wutah. Despite the fact that these villages are not too far from the ocean, these aborigines still consider themselves from the mountain more than the coast. We just asked them to show us their villages and aspects of their traditional culture on the go. Our plan was also to take these students to another island in the Pacific to let them experience the culture of another Pacific island. We decided then to set out for the Solomon Islands because of its special diplomatic links with Taiwan and because the country was organizing this year’s Festival of Pacific Arts. It was a unique opportunity to gain an insight into the diversity of the cultures of the Pacific where Taiwan aboriginal culture would also be  represented as the Council of Indigenous Peoples was able this time to send a performance troupe.

Unfortunately, neither of the two boys could come on the trip in the end. One was called for military service and the other had to finish his medical internship. So we went to find another student from a village in the same area. Yubax Hayung (羅秀英) was born of an Atayal father and a Bunun mother and she is from Aohua, an Atayal village located a few kilometers away from the other two villages and from the coast. She turned out to be a very interesting character to follow, being also probably one of the most unsettled within the group of students.

Thus, in July 2012, we flew to the Solomon Islands to continue the shooting and I completed the editing within four months in order to present the movie at the International Austronesian  conference organized on November 27-28 this year  by the CIP and the TSPS.

Solomons lilisiana

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The summary of the documentary is available here: http://www.erenlai.com/index.php/en/editorials/5138-writings-that-weave-waves-east-formosans-and-the-pacific

 

Or watch the trailer

 


Friday, 19 October 2012 20:01

Writings that Weave Waves: East Formosans and the Pacific

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East Formosa has been the departure point of the great migration that, six thousand years ago, shaped the present Austronesian world. And it is now home to the majority of Taiwan’s aboriginal population, some of them living in the plains and on the shore of Eastern Taiwan, and some in the mountains. The geography of Taiwan explains in part the diversity of its traditions and of its relationship with the Pacific world: In the central regions of Taiwan, the Mountain Range stretches from North to South with more than one hundred peaks rising over three thousand meters.  Further east, the smaller Coastal Mountain Range divides the remaining land into two parts, one located between the two mountain ranges, and the other directly facing the Pacific Ocean.

This documentary shows how aborigines in Taiwan, especially the younger generation, express and live their identity, while linking their narrative to the world of Oceania, which their ancestors contributed to develop, and where aboriginal people nowadays struggle to express their cultural, social, political and spiritual self-perception. In short, it is about the flow and exchange of experiences and stories (the ever-changing narrative weaved by the waves of the Ocean) that enrich and mix into one our local and global identities.  The Oceanic continent both separates and gathers together the people who inhabit it.

For the Pacific Ocean is not only a physical entity but a “storied” space as well: its immensity and the experience of crossing it have inspired in-depth stories, myths, poems, music and epics; its borders and islands have witnessed the rise and fall of cultural and spiritual traditions breaking along its shore, wave after wave.

Taiwan is a point of departure, a meeting point, and a destination for the stories weaved by the waves. This documentary aims at nurturing in Taiwan’s youth, especially in its indigenous youth, a sense of belonging within the Pacific world, while encouraging their creativity, their appreciation of the variety of the cultural resources offered by other Austronesian people, and its perception of the “resonance” that related stories, music and art forms inspire throughout this oceanic interchange.

Thus the filming of this documentary really started in Vancouver Island, Canada where some of our protagonists met with First Nations during a cultural exchange where both groups performed their traditional dances and songs. Then we get a glimpse of the way aboriginal traditions are preserved and transmitted in villages on the eastern coast of Taiwan and we travel through the Melanesian and Polynesian world with scenes and stories filmed during the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts, held in Honiara, Solomon Islands, this year.

Director: Cerise Phiv 
Co-director:  Benoit Vermander
Image: Cerise Phiv, Amandine Dubois, Yubax Hayung, Wilang Watah, Takun Neka
Editing: Cerise Phiv,Amandine Dubois

Languages: Chinese, English, Spanish
Subtitles: English, Chinese

Watch the trailer here

Readers in China can watch it here


The Premiere will take place at the National Central Library in Taipei on Tuesday November 27th at 5pm as part of the International Conference organized by the Council of Indigenous Peoples and the Taiwan Society for Pacific Studies. You can join the facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/129160723900797/

Or contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. directly!

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Friday, 29 June 2012 00:00

Beyond the digital trash bin

There are as many ways to take a photograph as to look at the world. Some pictures show an empathy with the subject, some others create a sense of distance or even repulsion. Some are bathed with light and tenderness, and some with anger or despair. Some concentrate on everyday life, with a sense of patience, a kind of meditative undertone, while others try to capture the spark of the moment, the transformative event that changes the mood of a crowd or the look on a face. Some impact a meaning on the world and on human life, and others speak of meaningless wanderings Some pictures seem to be the product of a leisurely walk, and some of a feverish quest into both the city’s and one’s own soul…

I am teaching a course of religious anthropology, and have found that initiating students to “visual anthropology” was one of the best possible ways to make them enter the subject matter. I show them documentaries and photographs, and they slowly become conscious of the fact that the best and most informative documents are not the ones that try to objectively record data but rather those that testify to the engagement of the director of photographer with the people he meets with. A sense of risk, of bewilderment, the account of how one’s own perspective has changed, the courage to position oneself within the environment one explores are the qualities we look for: at its best, visual anthropology gives us an unparalleled account of the way people live and express their beliefs, engage into rituals, how they understand and shape the world they dwell in.

Photographs are rich with information, but not only with information. They are relational objects: they express how we engage or did not engage into a relation with the object of our interest, how our exchanges created the opportunity through which a rich and striking photograph could be taken, how we become part of the scene we document (landscape, ritual or street scene), how frontiers have been blurred till the point that we do not know whether we shot the picture or were shot into the heart by what we saw and experienced.

It is a pity that the act of photographing has been trivialized to the extreme. Pictures are taken all the time with cell phones and other devices – pictures of ourselves mostly -, we look at themselves a few seconds before forgetting them forever, and putting them into a digital trash bin. When it comes to me, I like to sense the weight of a real camera resting on my shoulder, and to make this weigh the symbol of what it costs to take real photograph, photographs in which I have engaged my powers to relate, to feel and to create. At the end of the day, there always will be the pictures meant to go into the trash bin from the moment they were taken and the ones that will speak for a very long time of the tears and the laughs that together compose what can really be called “the salt of life.”

 

 


Monday, 30 January 2012 18:20

The Rift and the Bridge

This is a two part documentary about how cultural understanding is forged on a day to day basis between models of civilisation that were considered to be fundamentaly incompatible. The aim is to make a case for ending caricaturised notions of 'the other' rooted voicelessness and disenfranchisement.


Wednesday, 16 November 2011 14:23

The Flâneur in Taiwan

Taipei-based filmmaker Pinti Zheng teams up with the members of avant-jazz project Flâneur Daguerre for this documentary exploring their music, their concept of "sound images," how they "wander" through musical space, and the musical life in Taipei. Includes footage from recording sessions, live shows, and interviews. (edited by Pinti Zheng with Louis Goldford)


Sunday, 23 January 2011 22:38

Keep Rowing: The subjectivities in the crossover action

Article abstracted from the original Subjectivities in the Crossover Action: A note on the ‘Keeping Rowing Project’ from Lanyu to Taiwan, 2007. The project was initiated by Chien-Hsiang Lin (林建享), who did much of the organisation and directed an accompanying documentary of the whole process called Kawut na Cinat'kelang (Rowing the Big Assembled Boat).

Lanyu (Orchid Island) is an offshore island in eastern Taiwan. Because of its distance from mainland Taiwan, the Tao, indigenous people living on Lanyu Island, still maintain a relatively traditional culture. For example, the traditional houses, T-pants, fishing rituals, plank boats etc., are distinctive features of Tao culture, and they still now remain part of Tao people’s daily life. Meanwhile, as Tao culture has been shaped to symbolize the culture of ‘Maritime Taiwan’ in recent years, sailing plank boats have been further ritualized as the dominant image of Tao culture.

In the everyday life of the Tao, plank boats are important tools for fishing, as well as an artifact related to social organization and the cultural systems of gender division, ritual, taboo, knowledge, and handcraft. But, during the past ten years or so, a new model of boat-making has been developed. The new model was not for fishing anymore, but for market value. Boats are sold to collectors, museums, resorts, and festivals for display. Recently, this has become the main purpose for boat-making in Lanyu.

The peak of the new type of boat-making could be demonstrated by the Keep Rowing Project, 2007. The dream project was created and promoted by a Taiwanese documentary film maker. The plan was to handcraft a traditional plank boat and row it across the treacherous Kuroshio Currents to Taitung, then keep rowing northwards along the East Coast of Taiwan before turning southward to Kaoshiung city. It was a cruise around Taiwan Island.

The film maker invited a native Tao as co-organizer to promote his dream project in Lanyu. The project was named ‘Keep Rowing Project’, and it was sponsored by both the government and the Keep Walking programmer of the Johnnie Walker Whisky Company. After gathering sufficient funds, the Keep Rowing Project finally kicked off at the end of 2006.

They began to handcraft their 14-seat plank boat in November 2006. The completed boat was completed and named “Ipanga na” in the Tao language. The row to Taitung took place on 19th June 2007, where they departed from Lanyu at 4: 30 arriving at 17: 30 at Taitung, before being exhibited at the National Museum of Prehistory for one week. A week later they rowed on northwards to Changbing, Hualien, Nan Fan Ao, Yilan, Keelung, before finally arriving in Taipei. Where they participated at the Forum on Austronesia Nations chaired by President Chen and held exhibitions at the National Museum of Taiwan, in City Museum of History, Kaoshiung consecutively.

The Crossover

A Crossover refers to crossing physical or invisible borders whether geographical, social or cultural. Usually, crossing borders also implies combining or mixing the elements between each border, then striding up or breaking through the obstacles, to progress and develop. The boat cruising across Kuroshio Currents from Lanyu to Taiwan was named ‘Ipanga na 1001’. The exact meaning is ‘crossover’ in the Tao language. Certainly, the organisers as well as all participants knew the value of Keep Rowing Project was crossover itself.

There were several implications of ‘crossover’ in the Keep Rowing Project:

  • Historically, it was the first time that a traditional Tao boat crossed the geographical boundary between Lanyu to Taiwan.
  • The voyage was undertaken with the aim to crossover cultural boundaries rather than for fishing. Thus, there was no formal ritual for watering, and the owner of the symbolic boat was Taiwanese.
  • The action was a crossover in terms of the social boundary, because the team of rowers in different sections of the voyage were organized by different tribes.

Even so, some traditional rules and taboos when handcrafting and rowing boat were still followed:

  • All wood materials for boat-making were obtained from Lanyu Island.
  • The boat-making process was conducted using traditional methods. For example, it used no iron nails.
  • The taboos of preventing the access to or proximity of females were followed during boat-making and rowing.

In addition, the action had much breakthrough symbolism:

  • The boat size was the biggest Tao boat historically.
  • The destinations, distance and time in navigation all set new records which had never been attempted in the past.
  • The participants in the event were both cross-tribal and cross-ethnic. The rowers were from different tribes, and the project was completed successfully by both Taiwanese and Tao people.

The Subjectivities

11The locations chosen for boat-making, departure, destinations, exhibitions and speeches all symbolized the crossover action. How should we interpret the subjectivities in the crossover action? Firstly, all of the original ideas, organizing, promoting and applications for the action came from and relied on a Taiwanese film-maker who cared about the revival and preservation of Tao culture over time. The co-organizer was a Tao person who back in the 1970s was one of the social movement leaders against the nuclear waste storage site that was to be operated on Lanyu. In the Keep Rowing Project, the Tao co-organizer was presented as the main character leading the rowing action while the Taiwanese film-maker stayed backstage. It was truly a wonderful partnership, even if perhaps the Taiwanese film-maker should have been seen as the main initiator and organizer of the project.

Secondly, in the Tao cultural and social tradition, Taipei or Taiwan was not significant reference. In terms of the cultural roots, rather than rowing a boat to Taiwan or Taipei, perhaps rowing a boat southward to Batan Island in the Philippines where Tao people originally emigrated from would be more meaningful. Therefore, why ‘keep rowing’ to Taiwan? On the other hand, during the past one hundred year history of Lanyu, Taiwan or Taipei was the center for governing, as well as for modernization. Visiting Taiwan or Taipei by traditional boat signifies a connection between their islands traditional culture and modern city society.

Thirdly, the idea for the Keep Rowing Project stemmed from the inquiries from Tao elderly people as to why ‘so many new boats were made for exhibition, but not for rowing’. In the end, the Keep Rowing Project did not only follow the new model of making boats for exhibition, but also persevered in rowing onward to illustrate the Tao culture as a culture based on maritime. In that, the Keep Rowing Project itself became another performance, to exhibit the Tao’s excellent handcrafting and navigation capabilities. In the end the action was less for the purpose of internal culture revival, than an external cultural performance. It was for this exact reason that the original project was undertaken.

Finally, before the rowing action, only some Tao residents in Lanyu had been conscious of the meaning of the Keep Rowing Project. There was no any formal activities or rituals held when the boat departed to Taiwan. However, when the first team of rowers returned to Lanyu, there were great activities to welcome them back like heroes. Sometimes, it seems that Keep Rowing Project only belonged to one tribe in Lanyu - Landao. Yet, it the only issue that all people talked about around the whole island since the social movement against the nuclear waste storage site in 1970s.

Despite the aforementioned, the Keep Rowing Project definitely highlighted the Tao traditional boat in Taiwan society. The successful navigation from Lanyu to Taipei, a distance of more than 600 km proved the quality and capability of Tao sailing. Furthermore, all rowers, who aged from 28 to 86 years old, and participants had showed strong will and great honor. Glory had been brought to the Tao people.

One of the keys to the actions success was the Taiwanese filmmaker. He developed a personal friendship and trust with the Tao people, in particular the Landao tribe, over a long period of time. He also had a tacit understanding with the co-organizer, and showed positive force to dissolve the ethnic boundaries between Taiwanese and Tao people by promoting the action.

Therefore, whether viewed by the outcome or through the backstage stories in the process, the Keep Rowing Project seems to have worked to perfection. As a result, the issue of subjectivities in the crossover action was never discussed. Or, in other words, it was an action of inter-subjectivities.

A perfect row

In the Keep Rowing Project, there were multiple meanings produced by the articulation between places, mobility and a Tao boat with Tao rowers. In this scenario, a unique place was necessary. Lanyu provided the traditional Tao territory, an island of ethnic space. Taiwan is another island nearby Lanyu and represented the otherness which governs Tao people. Taipei was the capital city and the socio-economic center in Taiwan. For Tao people, visiting Taipei meant approaching a modern space and a modern imagination beyond Lanyu Island.

The special mode of movement between places was necessary, too. Sailing was very welcome in Taiwanese society because it fit well with the image of ‘maritime Taiwan’ promoted by some political parties and NGOs to shift Taiwan’s identity from a continental country to a maritime country.

Finally, the traditional Tao plank boat made by traditional handcrafting methods and rowed by Tao people themselves and the navigation was an adventure which was never done before. Here lies the true crossover mobility. The Keep Rowing Project had been completed perfectly, but, the Tao boat of hope has to keep rowing onward to the future.

 

Reference

1. Chen, CS (1961) A Geography of Taiwan, reprinted by SMC Publishing Inc (1993), Taipei.

2. Chen, YM (2001) The History of Taitung County: volume Yami, Taitung County Government, Taitung.

3. Hsia, CJ, Chen, CW (1998) The Economic Development of Taiwan, the Social Formation of Lan-Yu, and the Spatial Role of National Park, Taiwan: A Radical Quarterly in Social Studies 1 (4): 233-246.

4. Hsia,Liming,(2011), Moving Toward the Ocean: Note on Keep Rowing Project 2007, Renlai Magazine 78:26-29.

5. Qalup‧Damalasan(2007), Crossing, Transformation and Continuities: The New Context of Canoe Making in Landao tribe, Lanyu, Taiwan. MA thesis, National Taitung University.

6. Keep Rowing, http://keeprowing.blogspot.com/ 2011.01.22

 

 

 


Thursday, 30 December 2010 18:42

"I have no hang-ups"

I never met Robert Ronald S.J. The first time I stepped into the old eRenlai offices was several months after he had passed from this ephemeral world. Yet as I came for an internship I was also somewhat blindly stepping into his shoes.


Tuesday, 02 November 2010 00:00

Documenting his own reality: The films of Kidlat Tahimik

The first film directed by and starring Kidlat Tahimik is Perfumed Nightmare (1977). He is a Phillipines born director who released this film with the help of Francis Ford Coppola. Although his films were shown as part of the documentary film festival in Taizhong at the end of October, they do not follow the style of the conventional documentary, and incorporate what could be called performance art, or a performative rendition of memory, experience and emotion.

The director, in what seem to be fictionalized sequences, traces his memory of setting out from the Phillipines to France and then the US. The director seems to attempt an experiential or sensous recreation of the trip. First setting out from his imagination of the West, a kind of Occidentalist structure with its foundation in Voice of America broadcasts and dealings with American soldiers and later recognizing the error in this imaginary of the West. The film employs a lot of surrealist imagery to fragment the logic of the narrative and the events on screen quite often happen in contradiction to the narrative voice of the film.

The film seemed to be countering the notion that modernization in the guise of progress is a good blueprint for what in the West is referred to as "The Third World". The protagonist who had been eager for progress to occur rescinds his membership from a fan club of an immigrant to America who helped to build the Apollo space shuttle. This signals his realization that the American dream is not the path to happiness. At first he is awed by France but as he grows accustomed to life there, he realizes that technological progress does not endow places or things with the meanings and emotions that places and things are endowed with in his hometown. The faceless encroach of the supermarket on the 4 seasons market confirms for him this absence of meaning that he comes upon in the West. Despite his ever more caustic tone in his films, Tahimik, in his interview with erenlai.com, insists that he is not anti-Western in his sentiments, but rather feels that the contemporary world could benefit from the application of aboriginal values to modern life, the indi-genius way, as he calls it. A theme he goes on to develop in his film Why is Yellow the Middle of the Rainbow (1994), suggesting that "old ways" are essentially an untapped resource in terms o_MG_0912f conservation and ecology; what he calls "an inbuilt brake system" Although used in an ironic tone in this later film, he adopts the dichotomy of first and second world on one hand and "the third world" on the other, dividing the world into "indigenous" and "Western" peoples, he seems to buy into this way of categorizing the world, which in essence is a result of a Western ethnocentric psyche. He traces the recent social and political events of the Philippines through the eyes of his son, Kidlat. He seems to be continually harking back to an imagined "non-Westernized" Filippino nation, embodied in his mind, in the Igorot aborigines. This is stressed in another of his films, his 1981 film Turumba, narrated from the perspective of a young boy called Kadu, gives an account of the dehumanizing effects of the European system of mass production on the village where Kadu lives. The local craft of Papier-mâché prepared for a local festival called "Turumba" is distorted and homogenized by a German woman who starts to export the craft works to Germany en masse. What had originally been a family enterprise laden with tradition, becomes a sudo-sweat shop, and the models that had been used before are discarded for the 1971 Munich Olympic Games mascot. Kadu's father who originally had been the Kantore at the festival every year becomes the boss of this enterprise and becomes obsessed with accruing status symbols of wealth, including a TV, a Mercedes Benz, foreign travel. This material wealth is contrasted to Pati, a machete maker, who lives simply but happily without the pressures of trying to prove wealth in material possessions.

 

The theme of both of these films along with Tahimik's debut film, Perfumed Nightmare, talk of a disillusion with the Western "developed world" and a pastoral longing for a simpler life uncomplicated by a imported system of values. These films reminded me somewhat of the short story 蕭蕭 (Xiaoxiao) by 沈從文 (Shen Congwen). The short story, in one interpretation, conveys a longing for life on the margins of civilization, as yet untouched by modernization. The old society's rules and laws although seemingly chauvinistic and oppressive are regulated by the institutions and the men and women within the society. This is represented within the story by the horrible things we hear about how women are treated in the society in which Xiaoxiao lives, but the relatively benign treatment of the protagonist herself, which denies us a feminist reading of the story. This suggests the pre-Western society had already evolved an independent "Chinese Modernism", the potential of which was lost with over-exposure to Western modernism. The film like this short story seem to be praising this cultural wilderness while simultaneously acknowledging its coming destruction. Both the film and the short story question the prizing of the modern above the native, and seem to point to an already void desire to found an alternative Eastern modernism, independent of the perils of what is often called "The American Dream".

 

Some excellent bits of the first film include the Filippino cast "whiting up" in a scene where they act as the white guests at a farewell party that make Kidlat feel small, prompting him to say:

I am Kidlat Tahimik, I'm not as small as you think, nothing can stop me from crossing my bridge.


Another scene, earlier on in the film, is where religious self flagellation is portrayed, and Kidlat goes to pray to the Virgin Mary, who speaks to him in a very crude manner, revealing the snideness of an icon who demands the pain of self-flaggelation. Mary describes Kidlat in the garb of self-flaggelation as "sexy". In his interview he discusses in more detail his relationship with religion, particularly Catholicism. Which he sees not as an enemy but as a circumstance, which has interfered with the cultural brake mechanism in the Philippines.

His apparent view of Western culture is summarized in his first film as follows:
 
 
The white carabao is rare, it is born against nature. The white carabao is beautiful but inside its cold and aggressive. One day, Kidlat, you will understand that the beauty of the white carabao is like the sweetness of the chewing gum the American soldiers gave you.

This seems to me to indicate the illusion created by Eastern imagination of the Occident and the subsequent disillusion that it begets.

A Clip from Perfumed Nightmare


Tuesday, 02 November 2010 00:00

Bad kids: Leaving a message for their future selves

Yau Ching (游靜) is a documentary filmmaker and professor based in Hong Kong. She was present at the Taiwan Documentary Film Festival this year where her film We Are Alive was nominated for the Asian Vision Award. Since it was one of my favourite films at the festival, both stylistically and in mission, I was delighted to interview Yao Ching about her documentary film and her own youth experiences.
 

What were you trying to show about these ‘bad’ kids? Was there a message you were trying to give?

I didn’t really show the kids, to be exact. The kids showed themselves. I basically did a series of workshops in these so-called reform institutes or detention centres in three different places. Hong Kong, Macao and Sapporo, Japan. At the workshops I gave the kids access to a bunch of video cameras, still cameras and audio recorders, for them to express themselves through these media. I gave them some exercises and themes as a means to talk about their feelings and thoughts. Through the exercises they were able to talk about their dreams, their fantasies, to write letters to themselves – their future selves; to talk about their families and most memorable memories. They were able to show a ‘self’ which is normally ignored or dismissed by mainstream media and institutions because they’ve been labeled as bad kids by society. Basically, in these very moralizing environments, these kids have lost quite a lot of their dreams and hopes for the future. I hoped that through these exercises they could regain some of this sense of self-recognition and self-confidence, so they could value their differences with other people and be able to think of themselves as having meaningful lives, not just the life defined by the legal institutions.

Is this why you asked them where they wanted to be 5 years in the future?

Actually that was a question about what kind of video you would write to your future self. I was hoping that through this exercise, they could see themselves as having a kind of continuity in their lives, not just that they were being segregated in this system, and this is the end of your life. Then you restart completely from nothing. This kind of amnesia doesn’t really make people recognize and learn from their past experiences. What I value for my own self growth for example, is how I can make sense of my past experiences as something I can use to improve myself, to grow and expand my vision for the future. Building that continuity through media and video, I was hoping they could think like people who had a future and past and could come to terms with things.

Have you ever been incarcerated?

No. That’s a very good question. I was a very good studious kid in my childhood, but then in my adolescence I was suddenly labeled a very ‘bad’ kid due to my gender and sexuality. This dramatic shift from good kid to bad kid has constructed me very deeply, in that I was forced to rethink some of the assumptions behind these constructions and labels. So, this project was also a way for me to rethink some of these values, such as what it means to be a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ kid in society.

Are there ways you think the penitentiary system in Asia can be improved on and how would you go about it?

From my limited experience, dealing with some institutions in limited places, I think that the whole youth reform system has to reconsider what education for youth is, rather than simply shutting them off from society or incarcerating and isolating them – even in terms of information flow, so that they are denied access to mainstream society and so that mainstream society doesn’t have to see them; as if this would make society much more safe and civilized. We have to actually rethink our priorities so that society can help these kids grow up and be useful for society and we could even learn a lot from them. There is a lot to be learnt by society about diversity in East Asia. A lot of the youth problems that we are facing these days, could be coming from the inability of adults to cope with diversity.  Our children have been growing up very fast with a lot of access to different kinds of information; thus they grew up being a lot more diverse than we were in the old days. So we adults have to learn to look at some of these, to register, to consult and to learn from these kids. Not just to erase them.

Do you think that any of the kids got some useful inspiration by the documentary process?

It wasn’t really a documentary by me, but a collaborative process between me and the workshop participants. Thus, from the exercises they did themselves and with me, you can see that they have grown over the course of the workshop. I have learnt a lot from them. I think that they have learnt a lot too, not necessarily from me, but more from their own process of making the works, of having that freedom, however temporary it was, to tell these stories about themselves. I always think that telling your own stories to someone else is therapeutic. You can see through the workshop how every time they recount the story it is a little different. So, just through that process of telling, they are already learning.

 

 


Monday, 01 November 2010 00:00

Trust me, I'm a DOCtor

The Artisanship of Documentary

This year TIDF ran the DOCumentary DOCtor Workshop in view of its responsibility to improve the quality and spread of Taiwanese documentary film. With four European and Asian ‘DOCtors’ present, DOCDOC gave the opportunity to aspiring Taiwanese filmmakers to have their projects assessed and DOCtored by experts.

Finnish DOCtor Janne Niskala, began by praising all the film projects present for having very specific subjects. He said that people often make the mistake of thinking you must have general issues to make a good film: “In fact the smaller the subject, the better the film.” He was impressed that in observational tragicomic Say Sing (說唱), the director/cameraman had forged a really intimate relationship with his subjects, a Hip-hop band who sang in a local Yunnan dialect. While far from complete, it had a universal musical dream and great potential.

Korean Min Chul-kim, mentioned that there was still room for improvement on the lack of producer culture and knowledge. Nowadays an understanding of production is crucial if a film wants to reach a global market and one may need to exceed pure activism or journalistic reportage and include a degree of cinematic creation. As such, he praised the commercial TV potential of A Tunafish Eye (滿載).

Jean Perret feels that filmmaking needs to be “maintained as a handcraft” and requires artisanship “to reveal in every detail”. He talked of the film of a wagon in Siberia, 8 minutes of a wagon moving through the snow.Too many Taiwanese and Chinese documentaries he saw covered “important” or “moving” subjects but were in no way made as a film. There was a need for hybridization between documentary and creative cinema. Also, he felt there was not enough respect for global audiences, with subtitles that are translated, but not considered an art in their own right.

 

All the DOCtors agreed that filmmaking required meticulous detail in all areas from the first frame to the production and distribution and were thus impressed with these young directors for partaking in the competition where they could refine their skills and breathe new life into their documentaries.

docs

 


Monday, 01 November 2010 00:00

I Shot My Love (2010) Tomer Heymann

This film won the audience award at the Taizhong Biennial Documentary Film Festival. It is an Israeli film which is compiled of a series of home videos, but not in the conventional sense that we regard "home videos". Heymann uses the camera to initiate serious discussions with his mother and his boyfriend, as well as recording their present lives, and bodies. His boyfriend is German and what I liked about the film was that it refused to focus on the "gay" relationship, instead focusing on the gay "relationship"; Tomer and his boyfriend, Andreas, discussed their relationship as two people and their families are both accepting of homosexuality.

 

The difficulties and the focus of the documentary was love across two different cultures, especially across the sensitive bounds of Israel and Germany - with Andreas pursuing a policy of ignorance is bliss in terms of his possible Nazi heritage.

The film was interesting because of its openness and reluctance to cower away from an invasive honesty; this included the boyfriend's discussion of life after being abused by his priest, and the doubts and worries he felt entering into a relationship in which he was willingly giving himself as well as the bitter pessimism of the director's mother about love given her divorce. The boyfriend's curiosity about himself and his relationship with his parents and Tomer is intriguing again for its honesty to his experience of emotion. He also points out that Tomer often saves up the "serious" conversations for the camera; this was not only pointing out the artificial nature of the presence of the camera recording "normal life" but also hinted at Tomer's retreat behind the camera, a safe place from which to carry-out serious discussions, which suggested a lack of self-exposure, unlike the vulnerability of the mother and the boyfriend, constantly subject to the objective gaze of the camera. In this way, he plays the role of the director, as opposed to revealing himself.

 
The perspective with which Andreas examines his own role as "victim" and his rejection of the victim mentality stands in stark contrast with the caustic post-colonial self-victimization of Tahimik, who was also featured in the film festival as a focus director, throughout his films.

 

Film Rating: 5/5


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