Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: documentary
Tuesday, 16 June 2015 09:02

Teilhard and China, Behind the Scenes

The 'Teilhard adventure' started for me at the beginning of the year 2013 after reading the 'libretto', written in French by Benoit Vermander. Very dense and documented, the 20 pages were my first immersion into Teilhard de Chardin's world. I appreciated Benoit Vermander's pedagogical approach: in his usual concise style, he resumed a lifelong story while giving prominence to the texts and the voice of Teilhard. Thus I discovered the intense text of the Mass on the World and even had the chance to re-read a French school classic: an excerpt from 17th century philosopher Pascal.

But my challenge was to make a film of this 20 pages-long literary piece.

While working on the pre-production phase of the movie, we came across another team preparing a bigger scale documentary for US television: Frank and Mary Frost from Frank Frost Productions. Frank and Benoit had met during a colloquium on Teilhard in 2012 and they had kept in touch since then. Frank and Mary had planned a research site trip to China and they were very kind to invite us to join them.

In May 2013, I embarked on a trip to Beijing and Ningxia with Taiwanese filming assistant, Sharon Liu. Thanks to Frank and Mary's contacts, we met for example Hailu You, a paleontologist from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of China (IVPP) who appears in the movie.

IVPP-group

The following video is an interview with Frank at the end of our trip:

In the meantime, Benoit Vermander was planning an intercultural workshop organized by Fudan University with the support of the Taipei Ricci Institute. The workshop, held in Inner Mongolia, would invite scholars and writers, mostly from Shanghai and Taipei, to read and discuss excerpts from Teilhard's work. The logistical preparation of the workshop was undertaken by Liang Zhun, a photographer based in Shanghai and a long-term collaborator of Benoit Vermander. She notably contributed to the film the beautiful shots of the desert and the Salawusu Valley.

The workshop was also quite an interesting experience: our heteroclit group got immersed in the immensity of the landscapes that Teilhard had crossed nearly a century ago. One of the most dramatic moments was probably when a small group of us went at dawn to the plateau bordering the desert of Ordos to listen to Yaling Wu, a lecturer at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, read in Chinese the Mass on the World at the same spot Teilhard celebrated it.

Yaling-Messe

After my trip to China, I joined Benoit Vermander in the region of Auvergne, Teilhard's birthplace in France, where we were very generously welcomed by his closest living relatives: his nephew Henri du Passage and daughter Marie Bayon de La Tour who inherited Teilhard's passion for geology. As we accompanied her to the banks of the river Allier where he used to take his nephews to show them rocks, one could even more vividly feel Teilhard's deep understanding of nature and Marie Bayon de la Tour, interviewed in the film, also emphasized this aspect: "Auvergne can only be understood if we imagine that it is alive, and that its geology evolves with time. I think it influenced Father Teilhard."

Marie-Allier

Once back in Taipei, I undertook the task of editing and finalizing the production of the movie, and finally the French version of the documentary premiered in Paris in June 2014 at the Centre Sèvres. The Chinese version was screened during the colloquium "Teilhard and the Future of Humankind" held in Beijing in October 2014. (Lien vers article BV) A year later the release of the DVD in its three versions, French, English and simplified Chinese would coincide with the anniversary of Teilhard's death.

Like any other project and human experience, this film in its three versions is the result of lucky encounters and fruitful collaborative work with all the difficulties and obstacles that it implies. I hope that this attempt of introducing Teilhard de Chardin to the Chinese audience, and to a broader public in general, can be the start of more dialogue, discussion and understanding between the people of different horizons.

Meynard beijing-small


Monday, 14 April 2014 00:00

Movie Screening at the 'Eyes and Lenses Festival' in Warsaw, 24-27 April 2014

The movie Writings that Weave Waves has been selected for screening at the 11th edition of the Ethnographic Film Review: Eyes and Lenses in Warsaw (April 25-27, 2014). The creening will take place on Saturday April 26th at 1pm.

Here are the synopsis of the movie and the trailer:

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. This documentary focuses on a small group of young aborigines from the Atayal tribe, located on Taiwan East Coast, showing how they express and live their identity, while linking their narrative to the world of Oceania, to which their culture spread, and where aboriginal people nowadays struggle to express their cultural, social, political and spiritual selves. Thus, this movie embarks on a trip across time and space, from Taiwan to Vancouver Island in Canada, where our protagonists met during a cultural exchange with First Nations and then to the Solomon Islands where Taiwanese aborigines met with Melanesian and Polynesian peoples during the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts. 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.

Also read a review by Madeleine King on eRenlai:
http://www.erenlai.com/en/focus/2013/taiwanese-aboriginal-villages/item/5220-review-writings-that-weave-waves.html

 

Published in
Events

Wednesday, 26 January 2011 15:53

A review of "Beyond Hatred"

A documentary by Olivier Meyrou, France, 2005
 

This French documentary discussed the murder of a 29 year old gay man by three skinheads in Rheims, France. It was interesting in that it worked in a distinct way from the way events such as this are normally covered by the press or in other films that portray the events as they happen like the melodramatic Matthew Shepard Story or Prayers For Bobby that intentionally pull on heart strings for a big impact. The more introspective style of the documentary started 780 days after the death of Francois Chenu, and focused on the journey of the parents and the siblings of Francois as they reluctantly let go of their anger towards the perpetrators, and faced them in court to hear their testimony and defense. The documentary portrayed brilliantly the very banal nature of the proceedings surrounding the trial, and the way in which the grief played out for each member of the family. It cuts through the performative rhetoric of the victim, that one sees already polished whether in press releases and or in lawyer's prepared statements, by showing us the emotive discussion and preparation, even debate over a single word in the prepared statement. In this way the audience is brought to the realization that the strong face that the family show under the spotlight in the documentary is revealed to be more complex.

 
I thought one scene was particularly interesting, in which the mother tells the camera that some part of her does not want to confront the perpetrators, because she knows when she sees them her anger will be dissipated by hearing of their deprived background, and the anger and rage will be diluted by pity or a desire to comprehend. She felt that, by the very fact of communicating and talking about the case, she was being dragged forward to a more rational place than the pure desire for vengeance. She realises the necessity of moving forward but is reluctant to leave that state of mind.
 

During the trial in the film, the audience observes that the family are torn by their rational democratic and humanistic principles and horror at the loss of someone they love at the hands of imbeciles. The better angels of their nature draw them to sympathize with the destitution of the perpetrators' lives, and the irresponsible actions and indifference of the parents of the accused.

 

Another interesting aspect to the trial was that the youngest perpetrator's legal representative was a Frenchman of "Arabic" descent. Given that the skinhead gang was intensely anti-Arab (one of their friends had pushed an Arab into the Seine where he then drowned), I thought it was extremely interesting to see how much the lawyer was involved with the young man and how much he pushed for leniency towards him. I also thought that his frank discussion with the family and about the remorse (or lack of) felt by the boys was incredibly powerful in that he was able to acknowledge their grief and appealed to their conscience at the same time, which he was able to do in part, because of his ethnic origin. During this discussion we can recognise the family's internal struggle, in that they want to know how to forgive, but are unsure of the remorse of the skinheads.

 
The whole structure of the courtroom and the way the case was handled, gave a lie to the way that these things are represented on television. The grief shouldered by relations of the victims as they go through proceedings makes all the little details and the minutiae of the law heavy with melancholy. There are several shots of office spaces, and corridors, which in their dreariness, replace the dramatics of the murder with the dull realization of the reality of this kind of loss.
 

In contrast to more traditional media outlets, the focus on the film, was on those left behind, and the grief and justice process. Francois never appears in the film, nor do the aggressors, or any photos of the violence committed. In this way, we stand in the place of the parents, who are left imagining the pain that their son went through, but the film ends with an open letter to the perpetrators. It is hard to know how the family's actions are perceived by the killers, and at times the family seems worried that they are laughing at the liberal values of the family that compel them to get involved in the lives of the attackers rather than maintaining distance.

 
Definitely worth watching 4/5
 
Below is the open letter to their son's killers:
 


Monday, 31 May 2010 00:00

KPS: Matteo Ricci documentary Part 3/3

Part 3Part 1Part 2

This three part documentary was recorded over 20 years ago by the Guangqi film studios, but takes us back 400 years with re-enactments of conversations that would have actually happened between the Jesuit Matteo Ricci and his friend Xu Guangqi. A challenge that all western students of Chinese can relate to in part, Ricci shows us what it was to struggle through the strokes of a Chinese character before the days of the The Grand Ricci, let alone the brand new digital version.  Fittingly Ricci is played by Jesuit Jerry Martinson.

 

To purchase the full version of the DVD Matteo Ricci in Chinese contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or come and visit the Kuangchi Offices in Taipei. Also available are educational documentaries on Matteo Ricci's good friend Xu Guangqi and two other Jesuits influential in Sino-Western history - Adam Schall von Bell and Francis Xavier. All available in Chinese and English.

 

Fr Jerry Martinson who acts Matteo Ricci in this film has also been involved in many cross cultural dialogue missions of his own, to hear about them click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 29 October 2010 17:28

From the cradle to the cradle

A review of documentary ‘Cradle of Happiness’, directed by Asel Juraeva, Kyrgyzstan, 2010, Digi-Beta, color, 20’

The movie starts in a hospital: white ceiling, white gloves, the sound of a heartbeat reproduced by the echography machine, a robotic sound that will stop as we see a doctor or a nurse take what seems to be surgical instruments of abortion. Then a fade out opens on to a dusty road, two little boys play at the foreground. A close-up lets us guess that they are twins.

This 20 minute movie is about the simple and happy life of these two little boys who basically spend their time playing in the garden, eating, watching TV and sleeping. The scenes are filmed at their eye-level, thus adopting their point of view and making us enter their world where adults are scarcely present: their mother, pregnant, who bathes and dresses them, their grandparents and their father who appears only once as he comes home.

So the space of representation in the movie just varies between the house and the garden in a continuous coming and going (va-et-vient). But another reality pierces through the opening created by the screen of the TV: the uninterrupted broadcast of images of war and violence contrasts with the serene sequences that depict the games and the activities of the family. As the camera lingers on the eyes of the little boys mesmerized by the TV, one of them suddenly lowers his look as though sadness has invaded him. That scene preludes the only fight scene between the twins (inside the house) which is followed by a long shot of the deserted garden where a toy gun remains.

The movie impresses by its scarcity of information: we only know that it takes place in Kyrgyzstan because of this strange sentence which opens the movie both in Russian and English: “Kyrgyzstan is a country of short films!” But we don’t know which village or town or city; also none of the people are named, there isn’t either any time indication. In fact, the movie is almost mute, only punctuated by the chirping of the boys. And this is what precisely gives to the movie its universal meaning and its interest. What we are told here is not the story of a particular family but the story of humanity through its particularism, with a certain Rousseauistic perspective: the innocent happiness of humans in nature disturbed by the corruption of a violent outside world that will maybe see these boys grow old to be soldiers; the opposition between childhood and adult age, the close tangle of life and death.  But the movie is not pessimistic as it finishes on a note of hope with the birth of the twins’ little sister: the circle closes finally on life.

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Tuesday, 15 October 2013 14:05

A Tale of Two Syrias


The Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival is a biannual festival, organized by the Taiwan Association of Visual Ethnography and held in Taipei. I was very glad to attend this year’s festival, and over the five-day event I saw many interesting and inspiring films. One that immediately stood out for me was the documentary A Tale of Two Syrias.  I studied Arabic in Damascus, and later returned there for work, so for me the film had a very personal appeal. Nevertheless, A Tale of Two Syrias makes interesting viewing for anyone who wants to know more about the region.

The film switches between two locations and two people.  In Damascus, we follow the story of Salem, an Iraqi fashion designer who fled from Baghdad during the Iraq war and hopes to seek asylum in America.  In Mar Musa, a remote hillside monastery in the Syrian countryside, we follow Botrus, a Syrian monk.  The film weaves between these two stories to paint an intimate portrait of a country that despite the recent media coverage, most people know very little about.   By capturing the difficulties faced by ordinary Syrians in Bashar al-Assad’s Syria and also their vision of a better, freer life in the future, in some ways the film pre-empts the current conflict.  However, through the beauty of Mar Musa and its inhabitants’ belief in inter-religious dialogue and mutual respect and tolerance, it also shows a vision of what that future Syria could be like.

I caught up with the director, Yasmin Fedda, whom I first met in Syria during my time there, and this is what she had to say:

eRenlai: It was great to see a film with a Middle East focus at the Taiwan Ethnographic Film Festival.  How did it happen?  Did they approach you?  Did you approach them?  What was the deal?

YF: I had heard of the Taiwan Ethnographic Film Festival through the Visual Anthropology networks that I am connected to, so I applied to them. They accepted, which was great!

eRenlai: Aside from your family links to the region, what was it that drew you to make a film about Syria?

 YF: At the time of filming, in 2010, there were still a very limited number of documentaries made in Syria, both by Syrians and internationals. I felt that it was important to make a film about regular- but unique- people's lives in a country that was largely misunderstood by the world's media.  

 eRenlai: "A Tale of Two Syrias" is an intriguing title. What are the "two Syrias" you tried to capture while you were filming? 

YF: I wanted to reflect the 2 stories of 2 individuals, the city and the country, the official and the unofficial, the before and the after.

eRenlai: Your film shows Syria through the perspective of two very different people, but nevertheless your two interviewees are both male, both Christian, and one of them is an Iraqi only recently arrived in Syria.  Why did you choose these two people in particular to represent the Syria of 2010?  Some people may question why you did not choose a Muslim or a female voice for example….

 YF: Good question. I realised after finishing it that some audiences have assumed that Salem, the Iraqi, is Christian, but in fact he is Muslim, but not very religious. At the time of editing I decided I didn't want to spell out what religion he is because he didn't either.  The only person's religion I did mention is that of Botrus. In Syria it wasn't strange for people of different religions to visit the shrines of other religions. I also think it is important to see that people’s religious beliefs and practices can be expressed in multiple ways, and being Muslim or Christian is not just done in one particular way that defines it for the rest. I also chose to have a story of an Iraqi refugee because up until 2010, up to 1 million Iraqis had gone through or settled in Syria and I wanted to humanise one of these experiences.

As for a female voice, I did try to find a female story, but after several different leads the stories didn't work out for various reasons (either bureaucratic, or difficult access to their particular stories). So yes I did intend to have a female voice.  But ultimately I was attracted to both Salem and Botrus’s stories as neither of them are your typical person in Syria and I think that gives an interesting perspective on life there at the time.

eRenlai: It was surprising that you managed to capture so many Syrians expressing their political opinions on camera (I am referring in particular to the discussions at Deir Mar Musa).  Was there any suspicion on their part?  Did you have to do much persuading? 

While people were discussing in Mar Musa I was allowed to film, due to being accepted by the community and also because I think people felt safe to speak there, so I didn't need to do any persuading. However the two discussions I filmed there now seem to reflect not only a different time, but also the issues that are pertinent today, like what does freedom look like and how do you share that and accept others?

eRenlai: Has the film ever been screened in Syria or the Middle East?  If so how was the film received?  What kind of comments did people have?

No, I haven't screened it in Syria or the Middle East, as it is difficult to do so at the moment. But many Syrians have seen it and have given me great feedback, which has been valuable to me. 

eRenlai: Could you talk about your changing emotions as the revolution in Syria started, then after a few months when it became clear there was going to be no quick toppling of the regime as in Libya or Tunisia, and finally when the revolution became a bloody civil war.

I was, of course, excited by the potential in Syria for change from dictatorship, and I still support this change. It became clear that this would not be easy as soon as the regime’s forces started killing people at protests and funerals, imprisoning and torturing thousands and using indiscriminate force in various parts of the country.

It is very sad and distressing to see the violence and destruction occurring in Syria today, and a strong solution to end the violence is needed as soon as possible, and then a transition to a different system of governance needs to be built.

Because of events in Syria today, the whole film has a sense of irony, tension and impending disaster it might not have had otherwise.  Had there been no conflict in Syria as you were editing the film, would you have made your film differently? What would you have changed and why?

I am sure it would have been edited completely differently, and my perspectives would have been different. It is difficult to know what would have been different as making a film is also very instinctive, and I was editing whilst the revolution was gaining ground and there was increasing repression and violence. I could not separate those things from editing. But in saying that, the Syria I filmed in was run by an authoritarian regime with much structural violence, rising poverty, crony capitalism, and many other problems. It was far from being a non-conflicted country even then. So I feel that this sense of disaster was there, even in 2010, but it wasn't clear where it was going exactly. The tension was there and I re-found it in the footage as I was editing.

eRenlai: At what stage of the editing process did the revolution start?  How far had you got with the film?

The revolution started just as I started editing, so it was difficult to see the footage of a few months before with the current news of what was happening in Syria. It took a while for me to edit after that as I could not edit the film easily due to these changes in Syria and the effects these were having on friends and family there. I took a few months off from editing, and then returned to it, knowing that the situation there had changed dramatically.

eRenlai: Before the conflict, Syria was not often talked about in the media.  Now, because of the conflict, Syria and films about Syria are getting far greater public attention.  As a film-maker, could you describe your feelings when faced with this reality?

While there is a lot of media attention about Syria I feel that there is not enough that deals with it more deeply, as most of the work is about war, which can be quite frustrating. That being said there are more and more great films being made there and they are slowly being filtered out into the world.

eRenlai: With the escalation of the conflict into a civil war between a multitude of actors, some of whom have shown themselves to be just as brutal as the regime, can we still call the conflict a "revolution"?  Can we still say that all factions of the rebels in Syria are fighting for freedom?

I think we can say that there is a lot happening in Syria and one of those things is a revolution. There are many other conflicts and fights going on at the same time but that does not mean we must sideline those that work non-violently or who focus on a change from dictatorship or for democracy. Silencing or ignoring them is dangerous, as is understanding the conflict in Syria in narrow terms, such as a conflict made up only of fighting factions, or of extremists, or full of brutal leaders. In reality there are many opinions and approaches.

Also it is important to keep things in perspective. The regime has, and still does, have majority of control of violence. The majority of destruction has been due to the regimes shelling and attacks, as have been most tortures, arrests and killings.

What is happening in Syria can also be called 'uprisings', a set of political processes that are occurring at the same time, trying to work out what they are and where they are going.  Also the term 'Freedom' depends on your definition of it, so yes, many factions may be fighting for that, and the challenge is reconciling those different interpretations of the term.

eRenlai: What do you think when you hear what some Syrians interviewed in the media –both in Syria and outside the country- are saying; that they preferred things as they were under Bashar al-Assad to the chaos reigning in their country today?

I hear a variety of opinions coming out of Syria but I cannot say that I have heard this opinion very often at all. On the contrary, I hear the opposite much more. Many people ask for an end to the chaos and violence but recognise that the regime has been the driving force for this chaos from the start in order to win popular support and to become even more entrenched. 

Some people do say they prefer Bashar al Assad, and others that they support someone else or some other group, and many others still that they prefer neither of these options.  I think this reflects the diversity of experiences and opinions across the country and I think this variety needs to be acknowledged and a space for it created in the future.

eRenlai: Christians in Syria today- and the village of Maaloula in particular where some of your film was shot- are not being persecuted by the regime, but rather by Islamist factions of the opposition. How does this affect Christians' place in the struggle against the regime?  They must be in a difficult position now...

I think the premise of this question is wrong and you cannot assume that Christians as a whole are being persecuted.  Many Christians have been persecuted by the regime pre and post conflict. At the same time there were individuals that were close to the regime and have favourable positions because of this. Sectarianism was used by the regime as a tool to consolidate power, both before and during the uprising against it. So this is a very complicated situation, as it is for Syrians of all backgrounds, including for Muslims, Druze, or atheists.

I think it is important not to see Christians as one homogenous group of people. There are many differing opinions and experiences which affect people's decisions so I don't think it makes sense to phrase the issue as the 'Christians' place in the struggle against the regime. It is about Syrians as a whole, people all over Syria are being targeted.

eRenlai: What is the best scenario for religious minorities in Syria?  At the moment things do not look good either way for them...

I don't believe this is a healthy way to see this issue. I think the best thing is to treat everyone as Syrians, as this is isn't a sectarian conflict, and is still one based on power struggles.  By saying that religious minorities are having a hard time, you are ignoring that the fact that the 'majority ' of Syrians, many of whom are Sunni Muslims, are also having a very hard time.  Everyone is affected by the conflict in deep ways and this must be recognised for everyone.

 It is important to point out that the regime has aimed since the start to make this a sectarian conflict, and this kind of narrative supports their aim. Sectarianism exists, but the uprising did not begin as a sectarian uprising.

eRenlai: Going back to your title, “A Tale of Two Syrias”, what "two Syrias" (or more than two) can you envisage in the future when this horrible conflict has come to an end?

It will take a long time to rebuild Syria but I hope it will be just one Syria after the conflict. One that is based on dignity, equality and able to accept diversity of opinion, whatever it might be. 

eRenlai: Will you be returning to the Middle East for another filming project soon? 

I am going to be working in Jordan very soon, filming a theatre production of The Trojan Women by Euripides, set in the modern Syrian conflict and made with Syrian refugees who now live there. 

 

For more information about Yasmin please visit her site, http://tellbrakfilms.com/

 


Monday, 07 October 2013 15:00

Film Review: The Queen has No Crown


The film
The Queen has no Crown was shown as part of the five-day Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival 2013. It's being held at the Wonderful Theatre, just opposite exit 6 of Ximen MRT - the last day is tomorrow, so try and catch at least one of the fantastic documentaries being shown. If you missed out on this film, you can catch a screening of I Shot My Love on the 9th October at the Freshman Classroom Building 102, Taipei at 18:30


Saturday, 05 October 2013 09:25

Film Review: Surname Viet Given Name Nam

The film Surname Viet Given Name Nam was the the second of two opening films of the five day Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival 2013. It's being held at the Wonderful Theatre, just opposite exit 6 of Ximen MRT - catch it before it's over.


Tuesday, 25 June 2013 11:19

After the Quake: Rituals in North Western Sichuan


Rituals organize and symbolize a way of living together. Through the enactment of rituals, a community expresses its fear, its solidarity and its longings. In traditional societies, performing rituals enables people to organize time and space into a meaningful universe, to renew their commitment to the group to which they belong, and to cement an alliance among them, with nature and with the supernatural.
The variety of ritual forms is astounding. It reflects the richness of cultural forms, artworks and humane inventiveness. Among the ethnic minorities who, all together, account for almost ten percent of China's population, those living in the southwest may offer the widest repertoire of ritual performances. Caring for the souls of the dead, exorcising ghosts so as to cure illnesses, rejoicing at marriages, New Year or at harvest time. The four rituals mentioned here all take place in Sichuan province, among people of Yi, Qiang and Ersu ethnic origins.


Friday, 26 April 2013 12:52

Religious Colonialism: Cultural Loss in the Solomon Islands

Sitting nearby his canoe Thomas speaks more at length of his sense of cultural loss. Like the rest of his family and the whole village, he defines himself as a Catholic. But he speaks of the missionaries of the ancient time with a thinly veiled resentment: "They took everything away from us... they were very clever... They alienated us from our customs by making us afraid that our ancestral ways would lead us to death, and also by pointing out that the sacrifice of pigs and other rituals were all very expensive. They took away the skulls, and dumped them into the bush... They told us that they was only God, no spirits or ancestors... No, we cannot come back to the past, we cannot retrieve ancient sacrificial ways. We would be afraid to do so. If they had only suppressed bad customs.... But they took everything away, the good with the bad."


Friday, 26 April 2013 12:39

Swept away from Sinology by the Allure of Taiwan's Pacific coast


I have been living in Taiwan since 1992, but, like most inhabitants of the island, I have been turning westwards more often than eastwards. And when I was leaving on research trips, most of the time they took me to southwest China, to remote mountainous areas, to study religious rituals and social changes, seemingly as far away from the Pacific world as possible. Still, a few months after my arrival in Taiwan, I spent some time in Taitung County, and, since then, the Pacific coastline entered my vision and my imagination. As the years went by I returned more frequently to Eastern Taiwan, as if drawn by a mysterious force leading me away from what had been my center of gravity. In 2008, I spent around 4 months of rest in Tafalong, an Amis village in Hualien County. festivalDoma06ONLINEThat was a hot summer, and there were few trees around. I was often lying down, trying to recover from the heat as well as from the state of exhaustion that had led me to this refuge. When I was able to, I wandered around, most of the time in the early morning or in the late afternoon, and later on I painted – painted the fields, the mountains and the houses that were surrounding me, painted the feelings of heat and exhaustion which were sometimes overwhelming, and painted also the stories, chants and myths I heard. I also listened to family tales and to ancestors' genealogies. The documentary we subsequently produced with the Renlai team is called "On the Fifth day, the Tide Rose", referring to the chant that describes the deluge from which the first couple that inhabited the village escaped. I still remember the struggle against heat and exhaustion, my reactions to the personal and collective stories I was listening to, the strange and enchanting beauty of this part of Eastern Taiwan, situated between two mountain ranges, and the mysterious attraction of the sea nearby. You do not see the ocean from Tafalong, but the Pacific is waiting a few kilometers away, like a giant, threatening and captivating presence. You do not see the ocean in the paintings created at that time, but it is hidden into them – for the Ocean is the primal force that made me come with these tiny islets of ink, colors and paper scattered among the Sea of Unknowing.

Along the years, the experience of standing on the Eastern seashore gave rise to a pervading feeling: I started to see the Pacific Ocean not only as a physical but as a "mystical" space as well; and reading more about the Pacific world I realized intimately that its immensity and the experience of its crossing had inspired in-depth spiritual experiences expressed through stories, myths, poems, music and epics; its borders and islands have witnessed the coming and melting of all the world's mystical traditions breaking along its shore wave after wave; it is ultimately one of the privileged spaces where humankind has refined and chanted the experience and "resonance" of the Divine. The commonality of such spiritual experience is sometimes summarized by the term of "oceanic feeling", though such wording remains open to challenges and controversies. The metaphors of "depth", "abyss', 'water", "resonance', "oneness" and "circularity" also find special echo through the physical experience specific to the Pacific world. Linguistic and musical expression, mystical experience, literary and artistic metaphors, and cross-cultural synthesis here melt into one.

And Taiwan is a point of departure, of melting and of destination of the stories weaved by the waves...


But does Taiwan's youth, especially its indigenous youth, nurture a sense of belonging to the Pacific world? Does its original connection with this open world encourage its creativity, its perception of the "resonance" that related stories, music and art forms take throughout this oceanic interchange? Such questions have been shared and debated by more and more people, as Taiwan's quest for meaning and spiritual depthwarcanoes48ONLINE has intensified and evolved during the last ten years or so. The quest for the Pacific connection (a quest often inchoative and ambiguous,) has been part of a shifting Taiwanese identity. Taipei Ricci Institute and Renlai have been actors in such endeavors, and have gathered a wealth of material on Taiwanese indigenous people and Pacific arts and stories, accumulated through filmed interviews, field trips and documentary records of international conferences. Ricci Institute and Renlai have also played a role in the formation of the Taiwan Pacific Studies Association, and have led groups of indigenous youth to Canada and to Fiji. This is how the project of making a documentary revolving around Taiwan's indigenous youth and the Pacific took shape – and this is how I went to the Solomon Islands in the summer of 2012. The timing of our trip coincided with the 11th Pacific Arts Festival that was drawing Pacific islanders from the entirety of the Melanesian and Polynesian worlds. Therefore the experience was twofold: it was an authentic meeting with the Solomon archipelago, and also an encounter with the diversity of cultures and people that together weave into one the Pacific family. And indeed, feelings of diversity and of commonality were continuously intertwined during all the encounters that took place during our time in the Solomon Islands.


Wednesday, 02 January 2013 16:01

Review: Writings that Weave Waves

Living in today's ever-changing globalised world is threatening traditional cultural practices and identity. The history of the Taiwanese indigenous peoples is evidence of this with the island's history marked by previous Chinese and Japanese rule and today, more generally, the rule of modernity. Thus, for the indigenous peoples of Taiwan, although they primarily live in smaller, rural areas, maintaining a strong sense of cultural belonging, identity is a challenge. Cerise Phiv's documentary Writings that Weave Waves: East Formosans and the Pacific World explores this challenge, glimpsing into the lives and perspectives of several indigenous Taiwanese individuals living in a changing world and their relationship with the indigenous way of life of their ancestors.


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


Monday, 01 November 2010 00:00

Journey to the end of craziness

A review of documentary ‘Crazy’ directed by Heddy Honigmann, Netherlands, 1999, Digi-Beta, color, 97’

Crazy is a documentary on memory and on the way one deals with the memory of traumatic experiences. In her movie, Heddy Honigmann interviews a series of Dutch soldiers who have all experience in a war context as members of the UN forces/army. The movie is remarkable for its use of documents such as photo scrapbooks, news footage and personal films, letters and postcards… The interviewees are most of the time comfortably sitting in their living room, or in a restaurant. Sometimes they are accompanied by their spouse or companion as they recount their experience of wars in various parts of the world such as Lebanon, Rwanda and Yugoslavia.

Thus the contrast is even stronger between the violence and horror of their stories and the environment and items that surround them now: a cozy and bright room, a park, an expensive bottle of wine… What Honigmann succeeds in capturing is precisely the moment of the recollection, this indescribable moment when a painful or traumatic memory mightily comes back, bringing to the present a past that one might have shut off.

crazy_3So there are two kinds of memory: a voluntary one and an uncontrolled one. The first one comes from the effort of remembering, it also rebuilds a story, gives an order and a signification to events. It is also the one that overcomes in a certain way the absurdities and the horrors of the war by choosing carefully what one wants or can remember. For instance, a soldier evokes the refugee camps in Rwanda: when asked if it was terrible to see, he just replies that one gets used to it; he’s then asked how quickly he got used to it, very fast, he says, as for the horror scenes he could have witnessed, he just brushed them aside, using what he calls the “blinders’ technique”. In his role as a strong and efficient soldier, he denies having showed any weak feeling during his mission, for him, it is a matter of survival.

crazy_4On the other hand, Honigmann also invokes another kind of memory aroused by music in her movie. Each soldier is asked to introduce a song linked to their experience of war time. From the Stabat Mater by Pergolesito Guns n' Roses' "Knocking on Heaven's Door", the soldiers all used a song of their own to find a bit of peace and comfort in a context of violence and dehumanization. So the camera just films them as they are sitting on their home sofa listening to these songs that carry such a heavy recollection. They stop talking but their silence is even more eloquent than all the stories they just told, eyes begin to float, sweat beads on their foreheads, hands are twisted together as if supplicating under the torture… And in fact, the special signification that these different songs carry for all the protagonists reveal precisely the banality of horror and the way craziness arises from the trivial.

This importance of music and its power of reminiscence have been evoked before in French novelist Celine’s “Journey to the End of Night” (Voyage au bout de la nuit). The novel also describes the absurdities of war and its impact on the mind as the story starts with the narrator enrolling for First World War after following the gay music played by a brass band! In fact Celine’s book is punctuated by music: the author himself named his writing “the little music”; describing the decay of age as the moment when “one has no more music inside to make life dance.” In another quote, the narrator says: “In fact, nobody resists to music. We have nothing to do with our heart, we give it gladly. Y’have to hear at the bottom of all music the tune without notes, made for us, the tune of Death.”


Monday, 01 November 2010 00:00

The crazy thoughts of silent lightning

An interview with Kidlat Tahimik, a movie director, writer and actor born in 1942 in the Philippines.
 
 
Is referring to your work as “documentary film” justified?
Tahimik: For a long time I never really thought of genres. I did my first film Perfumed Nightmare and then my second and third. Then in 1989, suddenly, I was invited by the Yamagata documentary festival to show a certain film I’d made, and I said “You mean I’m a documentary maker? But my films are not like the BBC!" I always thought that that was the mould for documentary. Over time the documentary has relaxed what its outer shape and inner shape is supposed to be. So I guess I am a documentary maker, documenting my crazy thoughts.

What do you think is the most common misconception of your work?

Tahimik: My works are very open ended, so I don’t know. I think for a close-ended world that’s where most misconceptions will occur. I like it if there are 200 spectators and 201 interpretations.
 
Tahimik Junior: I think one of the things is that they sometimes perceive my father’s work as anti-western and I think it’s not so much anti-western as pro-indigenous. The other side.
 
Tahimik: Our side. Like for example my mother watched my first film and asked me “Why did you make such an anti-American film?". And then I said to her, “Ma, it’s not anti-American, it’s more oriented towards finding our own inner strengths. We have been subdued by American education, maybe in a certain sense we’d never been aware that we were overly Westernized because of our Western curriculum, and because Hollywood’s curriculum. American idol has been in our country long before American Idol became a TV program.
 
 
In your film Turumba, you make reference to the nativization of Western religions. What do you think of the massive influence that the church plays in the Philippines today?
 
 
Tahimik: I look at Catholicism as a circumstance rather than an enemy. I have a feeling that it has contributed a lot, although its ideals, like many great religions are quite lofty and worthy. But because it doesn’t really belong to our people, it tends to be interpreted at our convenience. So when you read about all the corruption in the Philippines, I think it is linked to the Catholic idea that you can live a completely sinful life, and at the moment of your death you have an act of attrition and you just go to heaven. So Marcos is in heaven. So it may have interfered with our cultural brake mechanism. Maybe that’s why there is a seeming anarchy in our country.
 
 
Do you think that the term “The Third World” has transformed in meaning in recent years or been reclaimed?

Tahimik: I didn’t really understand that it was a dichotomy, as opposed to the first and second world. I guess it’s mainly economic nomenclature. An indigenous chieftain in one of my films. He always mispronounced the word “indigenous” saying "We indi-genius peoples have been trampled upon, our indi-genius culture is looked down upon”. And I said “Wow! It’s a really cosmic mispronunciation.” to combine the “genius” with the indigenous culture. I think that third world juices can be harnessed for economic development. There is a lot of indigenous wisdom that can balance this world which has lost its brakes.
 
Listen to the interview here:   
 
 
For a review of three of Kidlat Tahimik's films see Conor's article: Documenting his own reality: The films of Kidlat Tahimik
 
 
 
 
 

Monday, 01 November 2010 00:00

Cinéma du Réel by Jean Perret

To show its commitment to documentary film, Taiwan allowed the necessary conditions for an exchange of knowledge from the best documentarists around the world. One particularly fruitful scheme was the DOCumentary DOCtor project, which invited young Taiwanese directors to present their projects and be given tips and advice by the experts. Alongside Janne Niskala and Min-chul Kim, Jean Perret completed the panel of experts. Jean Perret founded the Swiss documentary festival Visions du Réel in Switzerland and he is now the director of the Cinema Department of the Art Institute at the Geneva University of Arts and Design.

When Ida and Nick caught up with Jean in the VIP suite, he was delighted to tell us more of his missions in the documentary, against the flux audiovisuel (audiovisual flow) andthe inebriation of information.

Photo: Liu Lu-chen

 


Sunday, 31 October 2010 00:00

Next stop on the Denim Express … Struggletown

On a recent long distance train trip in China, a budding entrepreneur and proud patriot asked me if my country had any factories.

“Sure”, I said, “we’ve got a few, but not as many as China does”.

 

“That’s right!” he quickly retorted.

 

“Because of OUR factories YOU have a good lifestyle and WE have a lot of hardship!”

 

He expressed these views very forthrightly and had no doubt about whose favour the Chinese balance of trade was in.  Perhaps my new friend’s family had felt some strain from China’s rapid industrialisation.  After all, he was making a 15 hour train journey to return home to his young family after working in Beijing.

 

Last Train Home screened at the 7th Taiwan International Documentary Festival in Taichung and gave me a new perspective on my earlier encounter on the train.  The cinema was almost full and arriving late, I had to find a seat in the front row.  Seated behind me were a bunch of 10 year olds, probably attending as part of a school excursion.  To begin with they were merrily chatting away, no doubt wishing they were watching a cartoon, and oblivious to the projections of the grim cityscapes of China’s south-eastern megacities.  But it didn’t take too long for them to be drawn into the story, wide-eyed and silently absorbed by the unfolding tragedy.

 

Presenting the tale of the Zhang family – parents toiling in a jeans factory in Guangdong, kids raised by their grandparents in rural Sichuan – Last Train Home is a bleak look at life in modern China.  As the story develops over 6 years, we see the characters evolve against the dual backdrops of the urban and the rural: sewing machines and tiny bedrooms alternating with cornfields and crumbling and damp farmhouses.

 

The story is very engaging, despite some of the dialogue appearing a bit too staged.  Flashes of brutality alternate with misguided optimism, all the while dreams are torn apart and the scraps reshaped, like denim off-cuts salvaged from the factory floor and haphazardly stitched together into something new.

 

The cinematography is artful throughout, generating a strong sense of place. The scenes at Guangzhou train station during the Chinse New Year are particularly powerful. We see hordes of travellers stranded as the rail grid is thrown into turmoil by inclement weather, progressively getting anxious as the narrow window of time they have to return to their hometowns grows ever smaller.  The claustrophobia of the crammed station and tension of the travellers as they jostle for space is palpable.

 

Last Train Home is a gruelling look at the flipside of China’s year on year 10% economic growth.  The Zhang family are just some of the many millions manning the machines that drive China’s economic juggernaut.  At times harrowing, this is a film that will appeal to anyone seeking an alternative perspective on China’s economic miracle.


Sunday, 31 October 2010 00:00

The Un-Bollywood

“We are fed up”.

So says one of the Nats, a community of street performers in eastern India, featured in the documentary King of India.  As itinerant performers existing on the margins of society, the Nats pass through the markets, street corners and fairs of metropolitan India, eeking out a living by putting on shows. Another day, another dirty slab of concrete, another set of headstands and tightrope walking.  Possessing the dual charms of athleticism and cuteness, the child performers grind out their show several times a day, hoping to bring in enough rupees to keep their family afloat. The kids’ energetic dance and acrobat routines are driven by rhythms pounded out an old drum and tin plate rattling against the ground.  Squint your eyes, muffle your ears and maybe you might mistake it for a big ticket Bollywood number.  Or maybe not.  The dust and desperation of these children is the Un-Bollywood.  The throbbing beats and gyrating hips filtered through the dusty melange of Kolkata’s backstreets offers us a different story altogether.

 

The King of India is just one of several films about India and South Asia that were screening at the 7th Taiwan International Documentary Festival in Taichung.  These depictions of struggle are far removed from the all-singing, all-dancing entertainment juggernaut that is Bollywood.  In addition to King of India, I also saw Dreaming Taj Mahal and three of the Journeys with Kabir tetralogy.

 

Dreaming Taj Mahal tells the story of a Pakistani driver, Haidar, whose lifelong dream is to visit India’s Taj Mahal. Frustrated by small-minded village life, government propaganda and the semipermeable membrane of the Indo/Pak border, Haidar never gives up his dream of visiting the Taj.  He lives in a world where fear of the Other conspires to trap him.  The restrictive duality based on Hindu and Muslim differences that shapes Indo/Pak relations is nothing new though, Kabir had already dealt with similar issues in an altogether different era.

 

Kabir was a poet who lived 500 years ago in India and the Journeys with Kabir films look at his contested legacy.  Kabir sought a more inclusive society through religious tolerance.  His poems have long existed in an oral tradition and are kept alive in many different ways.  The director, Shabnam Virmani, stated “the more people I meet, the more Kabirs I meet”. Almost everyone seems to have a different interpretation of Kabir’s poems, from the universal view of the protagonist, Dalit (untouchable) folk musician Prahlad Tipanya, to the more dogmatic and exclusivist position of some of the pundits and experts met on the roads and rails of India. The Journeys with Kabir filmsoffer a probing look into the forces that shape contemporary India, from communalism to globalisation, with an ever-present folk soundtrack.  For fans of Indian folk music, the Kabir movies are worth watching for the extensive concert footage alone.

 

These stories are given time to unfold and are uncluttered, especially Journeys with Kabir.  The characters have space to talk, to let their feelings flow.  The ambient (and not so ambient) sounds of India reverberate throughout – car horns, train station announcements, heated finger-waving discussions.  The India shown here is the flipside of years of economic development.  Those in the village and those who have moved from the village to the city in search of a better life aren’t shown to be sharing in the spoils of India’s growth.  They survive in a world where the politics of caste continue to shape one’s destiny.

 

As opposed to the glitzy glamour Bollywood, these movies are better seen in the context of subaltern studies.  Writers in the subaltern studies group have long attempted to give a voice to those who are neglected by most historical accounts, an approach that can be equally applied to film.

 

For several decades writers from the subaltern studies group have been generating a view of history that locates the place of minority, repressed or low class people within the context of post-colonial societies.  The work of these writers can help explain how the lower castes remain on the fringes of Indian history.  Evolving from the work of Antonio Gramsci, subaltern refers to non-elite or subordinated groups.  A large number of groups have this status in India as they are marginalised by their caste or other socio-economic factors.  According to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak[1], the existence of the subaltern is an unavoidable product of the discourse generated by elites.  This discourse in India has been primarily concerned with the democratic progress towards modernity and is found in the media and history books.  The subaltern is thus “marginalized not because of any conscious intentions but because they represent moments or points at which the archive that the historian mines develops a degree of intractability with respect to the aims of professional history”[2].

 

The characters in these movies all occupy the role of the subaltern.  Be it the ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan, the struggle for equality for the lower castes or the ferocious forces of globalisation that threaten to leave large portions of the Indian population behind as the country modernises, these events are so large that the voices of the marginalised can be easily drowned out.  Watching the Indian selection from the 7th Taiwan International Documentary Festival won’t necessarily be an entertaining couple of hours, but it will be eye opening.  The frustrations of the characters in these movies say so much more about the unfortunate reality of so many in India than your average Bollywood extravaganza could ever hope to.

You can watch the Journeys with Kabir tetralogy at http://www.cultureunplugged.com/

 


[1] Gyatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography” in Ranajit Guha (editor), Subaltern Studies IV, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1985.

[2] Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Minority Histories, Subaltern Pasts” in Saurabh Dube (editor), Postcolonial Passages: Contemporary History-writing on India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2004.

 


Sunday, 31 October 2010 00:00

Transcending conventional reality: An interview with CCD Workstation’s Wu Wenguang

At the 2010 Taiwan International Documentary Festival, CCD Workstation, an artist space in Beijing had their own very own program. Wu Wenguang who founded the workstation was invited over to the festival as a special guest to give his judgements on the Taiwan award. In between his arrival and his humorous conducting of the audience at the awards ceremony Nick and Shinie Wang caught up with him to find out a little more about The Villager Documentary Project.

 

Nick Coulson: How did The Villager Documentary Project come about? 

Wu: It came completely by chance in 2005, when I was wondering how the villagers would use a DV camera if given the opportunity. Would they be able to make the documentary they wanted? Ten villagers came up to Beijing and after basic training; they all made a short film related to village self-governance. After this plan finished, those willing to carry on, did so. Ten became four. The films My Village 2006 and My Village 2007 were completed, without restrictions; what they wanted to film, they filmed.

 

N.C.: Were the villagers able to ‘bare their stuff’ and bare their past memories through this project? Was there any discrepancy between your initial aims and the final outcome? 

Wu: Initially, the title of the film Bare Your Stuff, was questioning whether we are able to release ourselves, to honestly confront and get rid of our doubts, to trust each other. The big problem over the past five years is that none of us trusted each other. These trivial matters made it very difficult to work together, as that requires revealing yourself, understanding and respecting others. I discovered that the problem wasn’t whether or not they could film. The facts have already proven they can film and very well. China doesn’t lack people who can make documentaries. Villagers filming documentary is more about civil consciousness.

 

Shinie Wang: You have been filming since the late 80s, have your creative or technical ideas changed since then? Your latest film Treating, documents the life of your recently deceased mother, does this indicate a change style?

Wu: The biggest change is in method. Towards the end of the 90s I changed from large professional equipment to a small DV camera. I adopted an image diary style: no topic, no materials, no plan, no budget. I just filmed what happened to be there and then edited it. For example, Bare Your Stuff was about the behind the scenes process of the Villager Documentary Project. Then, in Treating I edited over 10 years of collected images as a form self-treatment. Next I want to make a film about my father, through history and memory, a film that will deal once and for all with the relationship between my father and this family - this is also self-treatment. I won’t film societal documentaries again. I’m bigger than the Palace Museum, there are many things inside myself that I don’t understand. How can I understand others if I don’t understand myself?

 

S.W.: What documentaries are you most interested in? What are the ingredients of a good documentary?

Wu: I have different hobbies at different times. I like all sorts of documentary, but recently I prefer personal images more than recording workers, the repressed and the suffering, which used to fascinate me. How can these personal images transcend of the normal? Documentaries should not merely show the truth, but they should be able to show through things, like X-ray vision.

Zhou Xueping’s The Starving Village records the last two years of her grandmother’s life including several other old villagers; they talk about the famine fifty years back. It’s very subjective, she wanted the village she knows, not the reality of the village, yet it all comes from reality. While it leaves objectivity slightly, she creates the reality that she knows, that of a ‘starving village’, one that is dying, a ruin. This is transcending conventional reality. This is “the creation of reality”.

 


Wednesday, 27 October 2010 00:00

Directing Intuition: When you are making a film, leave the window open

In October 2010, Taiwan International Documentary Festival welcomed Heddy Honigmann as their special guest. eRenlai & TIDF interviewed her under the watchful eye of her own camera.

Born in Peru to Polish Jewish immigrants, Heddy Honigman moved around the world a lot before eventually settling in Holland. She went from literature, to poetry, where she realized she was writing her poem though a series of images and that what she really wanted to do was make films. Yet even in film Heddy has alternated between fiction and documentary. Added to the various languages she speaks, her lifestyle has always had a nomadic touch: “It sounds cliché but I am from everywhere. If I had been in Taiwan and young, I would become Taiwanese. I can root anywhere; I call it a gift for film”. For Heddy, film is closely related to memory. Her family members were great story tellers, especially the women. Her mum said “the world is full of horrible things,” but that “you can’t cry about everything in life”. You have to approach everything with a degree of humor and irony. “You have to live and smile a little, or die.”

Heddy says: "When you are making a film, leave the window open." The art of improvisation is more important when your making documentary. You have a dialogue, not an interview. For example when asked: How do you capture their inner reactions? She retorted: How do you kiss a woman? It’s different every time. It either works or it doesn’t. For example the former Bosnian War soldier in Crazy. He had sweaty hands. He kept looking down. He told me once that he had tried to commit suicide. He was willing to tell me this. Why? I was talking to him like I talk to a person, I only film people, I had tears running down my face because of some of the stuff he told me. Of course I stopped myself making any sounds. But I was listening to him because I was genuinely interested in him and what he was telling me.

Do you observe people for a while before deciding to interview them? Have you already built up a relationship with your subjects?

It depends. Most of the time, I research. I make sure the supporting pillars are in place. I make sure the film is possible. I then search for 3 or 4 characters that are so strong that they will always remain in the film, even if it gets difficult. I might find them in the street, or the cemetery; it’s intuition. I am looking for ‘film characters’. Some people may have interesting content but when they communicate there is no emotion. Some of the people in my films rival Robert De Niro. For example in Crazy, it was very important which music the soldier was listening too; I maintained a veto on Mariah Carey. I dream up my characters. In my dream they would be playing Janis Joplin’s Summertime. In a way it is at type of casting, but the process is open and while filming you can find many new beautiful characters. For instance, in Forever, I randomly encountered a woman in the cemetery. We were eating apples in the tree shade, she walked by and said “bon appetit”, so we caught up with her and asked her for an interview. In it, she revealed that her husband, who was twenty years younger than her, had died from a bee sting, just three years after their marriage. It was a very strong story. All I knew was that she had been visiting a tomb; my intuition told me there was a story there. I am very curious by nature; I never have a complete plan. I hate documentaries where you feel the questions are already prepared. For example the interviewee says her father is dead and then the next question you ask is: “How long have you been in Taiwan?”

In the work Crazy, you ask the interviewee to play a song, which seems to be an emotional medium to trace back through their memory. Meanwhile you continue filming them until near the end of their song.  If I were filming you about your life or a memory, what would be playing?

The film would definitely be full of Bach. He is a master, a genius in joy. Wherever I go, Bach is my home in exile. Also, recently when I was frustrated and all was going wrong, I opened an old file about 10 years old. It had Madonna, George Michael, and the Rolling Stones. So now I have a cocktail of music on a file, which always brings my sprits back and makes everything better.

How do you deal with strong emotional reactions from your subjects? In Oblivion for example you persisted in questioning the shoeshine boy despite his apparent discomfort.

With the shoeshine boy, reality was giving me a slap. He had no dreams, nothing, it was blank. So in a natural way, you respect the moment, the silence, but you know you have to continue – you cannot leave the person alone with his problems. For instance with the women whose husband died, there was no second thoughts; I reacted in the most natural way possible. I said “C’est terrible” because it simply was horrible. In the end, she looked at me and I looked back. She understood that it was the end and simply left. It was a beautiful moment. When the soldiers in Crazy hear the music they love, some would eventually look at me in a way that says “Please, stop the torture” and as soon as I see that, I immediately turn off the camera. I just have to stop. Sometimes when you film, you trespass over the frontier. You see that you went too far. I’m very much aware, that when you make a documentary, you use people. So you need to respect them a lot, you can’t squeeze them.


Tuesday, 12 October 2010 00:00

Simply Filming Yanting

An interview with Taiwanese Director Chu-chung Pan (潘巨忠), co-director of the 2010 documentary "Green's 284 Blue's 278", which was featured in the 2010 Taiwan International Documentary Festival. The film portrays the daily life of an autistic young person, and in this clip the director discusses the difficulties encountered and the rewards of filming this particular subject matter.


Tuesday, 12 October 2010 00:00

Improving the archives

In this audio file we interview Yael Hersonski, director of the groundbreaking new holocaust documentary A Film Unfinished. She talks a bit about her mission to look at wartime holocaust footage in an alternative way. Below is the transcript.


Tuesday, 12 October 2010 00:00

Free Memory!

What is the difference between our memory's reality and the reality recorded in images. How can we transform, release and liberate our memory, allowing us to view the things we remember from a different perspective?

Memory is formed by history. The blind spot of memory lies in its ability to remember only that which it wishes to remember. Even so, Edward Said once said: culture is simply memory struggling not to be forgotten. Through these documentaries, which supposedly record reality, are we able to explore and understand the depths of memory, the past that has been blinded so by our prejudice? And are we able to breed understanding and concern in the wider world and to free our memory. Furthermore it is due to the presence of a camera that we bravely decide to talk of our experiences and memories. This is another level of meaning in the theme 'free memory'. Liberating our memory, does not only concern itself with objective history external to ourselves, but is also concerned with thorough retrospection on our own life and memory. Here, festival director Angelika Wang gives her own explanation of Free Memory, the main programs in this year's festival, the state of documentary and gives a few recommendations of films to look out for:

To match the theme of "Free Memory" this festival featured a memory wall - My Photo, Our Wallpaper - where you could choose a picture that meant something to you, then be photographed holding the picture which would eventually stuck on the wall. While Angelika had put up the first photo,  the opening ceremony was concluded as we all watched the proud parents of Angelika put their own picture on the wall, a tribute to the passing of memories through the generations. Perhaps by exploring this festival, you can come closer to understanding the significance and importance of documentary.

 

 

Tuesday, 12 October 2010 00:00

TIDF 2010

Last month saw the 7th biennial Taiwan International Documentary Festival held in Taichung. eRenlai was omnipresent at the festival; working in collaboration with the festival, providing festival snaps, videos and cutting-edge interviews with the best in the lonely, but precious art of documentary. The festival showed its continued prestige inviting some of the biggest names in the documentary world from North America, Europe and Asia including producers, directors, editors and cameramen whilst not turning its back on Taiwan's own documentary trade with its many workshops, lectures and the Taiwan Award. This focus will take this occasion to look at the power and importance of documentary in the contemporary world of overloaded, abused information and the flux audiovisuel and explore the festival's main theme of 'Free Memory'. This freeing of one's memory was best incorporated in He Si-ying's fantastic bubble head design, yet the festival also included the Memory Wall, a space where the public was invited to bring a picture that meant or signified a lot to them then the proceeding pictures taken, holding their pictures, joined the wall.

tahimik_kidlateRenlai caught up with the festivals special guests including some of the biggest names in documentary, both Taiwanese and foreign. But before any of these we interviewed with the festival director who gave us some background information about the projects and participants. They included the academic and founder of the Swiss Visions du Reel, Jean Perret; emotional and intuitive director amongst the most celebrated in the field of documentary, Heddy Honigmann; Beijing's biggest documentarist/curator since the Great Reform in China, Wu Wenguang who brings with him the documentaries produced for The Village Documentary Project and of course the king of Third World film, the dancing indo-genius Tahimik Kadlit. Furthermore we have podcasts with director of a very different type of holocaust movie, Yael Hersonski, Hong Kong director Yao Ching and Tahimik's son Kidlat.

Yet TIDF is more than just a showcase for international documentaries and a rubber stamp for multi-thousand dollar prizes. It is also a place for young aspiring directors, filmmakers and artists to learn from the experts. As such they incorporated 'family box' installations from talented children which had their origins in Sylvia Chang's GOSH Foundation. The three young winners of the competition from the year before were delighted to have their stunning video art works displayed in the MOFA gallery as well as being showcased on eRenlai. Please sit back and enjoy the works from Liu Min-chieh, Li Pei-tzu and Yang Hsin-he.

Finally, nothing can truly match up to the visual arts experience and equipment at Taichung's NTMOFA, so if you couldn't make it to the festival we bring you a taste of the cinematic experience you missed, whether it be the techplex media art centre, with its experimental screenings or the wondrous outdoor 'starlit screenings'. Indeed, it was on the 22nd October 2010 at 7pm when the helium filled balloons were released flying from the net that was our brain, way into the skies and as such we could begin with the release of these memories from all around the world hundreds of movies beginning with the first film Doc Taichung, a montage of 6 different films, made by six different directors especially for this year's 2010 festival.


To see the award winners please click here

 

 

Monday, 31 May 2010 00:00

KPS: Matteo Ricci documentary Part 2/3

Part 2│Part 1Part 3

This three part documentary was recorded over 20 years ago by the Guangqi film studios, but takes us back 400 years with re-enactments of conversations that would have actually happened between the Jesuit Matteo Ricci and his friend Xu Guangqi. A challenge that all western students of Chinese can relate to in part, Ricci shows us what it was to struggle through the strokes of a Chinese character before the days of the The Grand Ricci, let alone the brand new digital version.  Fittingly Ricci is played by Jesuit Jerry Martinson.

To purchase the full version of the DVD Matteo Ricci in Chinese contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or come and visit the Kuangchi Offices in Taipei. Also available are educational documentaries on Matteo Ricci's good friend Xu Guangqi and two other Jesuits influential in Sino-Western history - Adam Schall von Bell and Francis Xavier. All available in Chinese and English.

Fr Jerry Martinson who acts Matteo Ricci in this film has also been involved in many cross cultural dialogue missions of his own, to hear about them click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, 19 May 2010 00:00

KPS Matteo Ricci documentary: Part 1/3

Part 1│Part 2Part 3


This three part documentary was recorded over 20 years ago by the Kuangchi Program Service, but takes us back 400 years with re-enactments of conversations that would have actually happened between the Jesuit Matteo Ricci and his friend Xu Guangqi. A challenge that all western students of Chinese can relate to, Ricci shows us what it was to struggle through the strokes of a Chinese character before the days of the The Grand Ricci, let alone the brand new digital version.  Fittingly Ricci is played by Jesuit Jerry Martinson.
 

To purchase the full version of the DVD Matteo Ricci in Chinese contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or come and visit the Kuangchi Offices in Taipei. Also available are educational documentaries on Matteo Ricci's good friend Xu Guangqi and two other Jesuits influential in Sino-Western history - Adam Schall von Bell and Francis Xavier. All available in Chinese and English.

 

Fr Jerry Martinson who acts Matteo Ricci in this film has also been involved in many cross cultural dialogue missions of his own, to hear about them click here.

 

Monday, 30 November 2009 00:00

Documentary as a medium for change

In the summer of 2006, six first year students at National Taiwan University’s Department of Social Work spontaneously formed a group with the intention of getting a better understanding of the phenomenon of domestic violence in Taiwan through interviews with those who had suffered domestic violence. They found three victims willing to talk about their trials and tribulations. Being young and inexperienced they found the process far more difficult than they had originally expected, never being quite sure of how to conduct the interviews and what attitude to take. Nevertheless all the mistakes, embarrassments, failures and doubts allowed them to learn things that could not be taught in class. Most importantly, more than just painfully observing, they were able to constantly ponder whether they were helping these people and what more they could could do to help similar cases in the future. Pinti (Qingxin) Chen was there directing and filming the interview and learning her own lessons on how best to use her art to raise these social issues. Four years later and now graduated, two of the students, Chen Rujun and Huang Yuling rewatched the documentary and gave their reflections. Here, with Pinti, the three of them looked back discussed their involvement in this project, and the contributions art can have in affecting social change.

 
Watch her documentary here

 

Saturday, 29 August 2009 02:42

Chinese music goes to the sea

The Traditional Chinese Music Orchestra is possibly Shanghai’s most exciting musical formation. While firmly rooted in tradition and relying on impressive scholarship, its musicians are also keen to introduce their public to new repertories, to mix up styles, times and places, and thus to display the diversity of China’s cultures. This is also a showcase of Shanghai’s spirit: where the river goes to the sea, all waters, all traditions mix up and take new dimensions and shapes. Shanghai has always been a place where cultures cross and fertilize in new, creative synthesis. There is something oceanic in the sound that comes from this orchestra as well as from the astounding variety of its repertory. Discover Chinese music as you never heard it before!

This documentary Seaside Serenade, Shanghai Traditional Chinese Music Orchestra was produced by AZ Cultural Enterprise in August 2009.


Wednesday, 26 November 2008 23:38

The Tafalong Project

“On the fifth day the sea tide rose…”



What happens exactly from the first to the fourth day? The song does tell us the events that unfolded before the big tide’s rise, allowing Kariwasan to take Tiamacan away, but, still, the chronology starts with this disjunctive event – as if only the recollection of total chaos could help one to create some kind of order within time and space. At some point, you have to start counting, but you do know that the Primordial Tale cannot truly speak of the Origin of the origins, that there is always a first day before the first. So, why not starting with the fifth one?

In the same vein, it is hard to say how the Tafalong movie exactly took shape. For sure, there was an encounter between Nakao Eki and the Ricci Institute. Nakao has spent the year 2008 working on an oral history project sponsored by the Institute with the help of “WeShare” Foundation. At some point (but when exactly?), it appeared to me that Nakao’s narrative was the stuff of a great documentary, in a way that would complement and enrich her writings and drawings, telling the same and yet a very different story. Renlai monthly and erenlai.com, both published by the Ricci Institute, were also trying to improve their skills in movie making, and had asked Nicolas Priniotakis to guide them in filming and editing a full-fledged production. Tafalong village was chosen most naturally as the perfect setting for this endeavour. I stayed in Tafalong several times between March and July 2008, and witnessed Nakao struggling with a project that was reaching far deeper than a mere academic fieldwork would have done. At the end of July, Cerise, Nicolas, Nakao and I gathered in Tafalong, also filming in the adjacent Fata’an township and Sado hamlet. We were joined in this adventure by Ta-cheng (Nakao’s cousin), several of their relatives, and other members of the Ricci team.

But is it really the way it happened? The “origins” of the movie reach far deeper anyway, and the more we advanced into production, the farther we went into the past: Nakao had to find her way into her own memories. We were sometimes dealing with a place (two places actually, discovering the strategic importance of the hamlet of Sado, the stronghold of Nakao’s extended family), sometimes with a clan or a family, sometimes with recollections linked to personal burning events. At some points, we were having a glimpse on the rise of the giant tide, but we could sense that the surge of the ocean was happening “on the fifth day”, that the tide would have not risen if there was not the mysterious unfolding of events from the unknown first day till the fourth…

So, the Tafalong project is not about a person, a place or a clan. It is about all of these and yet about something different. It is about the way memories – memories shared by and divided among individuals, villages and families – are told, re-enacted, slowly digested or suddenly cried out at the face of the earth, memories that obscure and illuminate the present, and that bless or curse the future… From the start, without us actually knowing it, the project was about the tides that endlessly shape, erode and engulf our mental universe.

On the fifth day the sea tide rose…” : There are the giant tides of the hidden, remotest past, there are the tides that have shaped the history of Taiwan and the Amis people during the last four hundred years, there are the endless sea currents experienced in the course of the most eventful twentieth century, there are the tides that unite and divide families, there are also the tides (insignificant and yet sometimes devastating) surging in the soul of the one who relate anew to the people and the lineage she comes from… and in this movie, there is also, on the shore of the Pacific, a real tide, the tide that takes away a beloved one and thus reawakens memories of the floods that engulfed people’s life in time past…
 

Drawing by Nakao Eki

 
 

Tuesday, 30 September 2008 00:00

One day at KPS

9-minutes documentary directed and produced by the eRenlai team (2008).

 

 


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