Wednesday, 22 June 2011 15:37

At the Confluence of World Music

Meet Fao, one of the instigators of the Renlai World Music Compilation released in July 2011 with the issue #84 of the magazine.

I hail from Bogotá, Colombia and have been living in Taipei for two years now. I compose music in which I like to use contemporary elements, electronic generated sounds and traditional music from South America and Asia.

After teaching sound engineering in Colombia, I was able to save enough money to fulfill my goal to travel and learn traditional instruments from other parts of the world. I went first to Japan, where I did several collaborations with contemporary noise musicians and also got initiated to traditional Japanese music. Then I moved on to India to learn classical Indian tabla music, before finally arriving in Taiwan where I practice the guqin and Taichi.


Tuesday, 15 March 2011 17:04

Tim Yip and Chinese Art

Tim Yip discusses the avant-garde art scene in China, and how globalization and the desire for a quick buck can affect the core values of traditional culture in societies.


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

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

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.

 

 

Monday, 04 October 2010 11:26

Reducing the digital divide in Taipei County

Jason Wang, Chairman of the Research, Development and Evaluation Commission for the Taipei County Government, elaborates on their policy to bridge the digital divide in their area.

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Wednesday, 29 September 2010 00:00

The Dancing Prince

A Portrait of Li Wei Chun (李偉淳) aka Prince Lee, a Taiwanese dancer and choregrapher who started his career as a member of the Cloud Gate dance company.

You can also visit his blog (in Chinese).

(Video edited by Pinti, subtitled by Conor)

For readers in mainland China:

 

 


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