Erenlai - 按標籤顯示項目: documentary
週日, 23 一月 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

 

 

 


週四, 30 十二月 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.


週二, 02 十一月 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


週二, 02 十一月 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.

 

 


週一, 01 十一月 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

 


週一, 01 十一月 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


週一, 01 十一月 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.”


週一, 01 十一月 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
 
 
 
 
 

週一, 01 十一月 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

 


週日, 31 十月 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.


週日, 31 十月 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.

 


週三, 27 十月 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.


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