Why Taiwan Films Matter
May 20th, 2019. Taiwan Film Festival News Release.
Written by Minghua Hsiao (firstname.lastname@example.org, 267-250-8437)
This month, the congress of Taiwan became the first in all of Asia to pass legal protections of same-sex marriage. And this weekend on May 26thand 27th, the inaugural Taiwan Film Festival comes to Boston at MIT. When Taiwan enters the headlines of American media, it usually signals the cross-strait tensions with its neighbor China. However, the time has come for Americans to rethink this tacit assumption. After a campaign for democracy lasting over 40 years, Taiwan is ready to share its achievements of creative liberty and mature civil society with the rest of the world through documentaries that are both entertaining and reflective. Four filmmakers and six films will come to the festival dialogue with audience members from all backgrounds, and share stories from the long path of Taiwan to democracy.
Jonathan Yang, the director of the opening film “Black Cats 35thSquadron” will come to share a behind-the-scenes history of the longstanding alliance between the U.S. and Republic of China (ROC) that started in WWII. Yang explores the lives of pilots from a secret cold war mission, conducted under the Sino-American defense treaty from 1954 to 1979. After retreating to Taiwan in 1949 with six million supporters, the ROC enlisted U-2 pilots, who trained at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas, to fly to the edge of space and take aerial photos surveying the nuclear development of China. These secret missions ended shortly before 1979, when the ROC left the UN and the US replaced formal diplomatic ties with the ROC with the Taiwan Relationship Act to maintain peace and security in the West Pacific. Yet the pilots sagas continued: two pilots were shot down and held in mainland China for 20 years. When they were finally released in 1983, the Taiwan government denied their reentry, and the CIA offered help to make the US their new home. The documentary reveals the personal price of war and how relationships among China, Taiwan and US have developed over the years.
After cutting formal ties with the US, Taiwan experienced a period of deep uncertainty. To encourage national solidarity, the government encouraged baseball and it became a popular pastime. Eventually, star careers emerged. Notably, Chien-Ming Wang joined the NY Yankees in 2005 and became the ‘Light of Taiwan’ as he carried many hopes and projections before sustaining a career-ending injury. Despite this devastating loss, he persisted and was able to return to the Major League after years of rehab and long stints away from home.Frank W. Chen, a Taiwanese-Canadian film maker based in New York, followed Wang’s long road back to the Majors in his documentary “Late Life:The Chien-Ming Wang Story”, and will come to Boston for a post-screening discussion.
Yet Taiwan can stand as its own light, and has its own story of return. In 1987 democracy returned to give Taiwan its own late life after 38 years of martial law and civil war with the Communist Party of China. Taiwan restored the 1946 democratic constitution with clear protections for freedom of speech, assembly, press, and protest. And since 1990, student and civil movements have played an important role in building society. Like democracy, legal same sex marriage is also the fruit of a 40 year campaign.
Taiwan’s social campaigns continue to this day. “Our Youth in Taiwan” tells the story of the students from the Sunflower Movement, in which young activists occupied the legislative Yuan for 23 days to protest the 2014 trade agreement that the Taiwanese government proposed with China. Taiwan is on the front lines of trade pressure, and its young generation is very alert to legal uncertainty of trading with China. The film also shows the new importance of Taiwanese identity to vulnerable young activists and the increasing difficulties in building bridges between the civil societies of Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. Director Fu Yue won the prestigious 2018 Golden Horse Award, chaired by Life of Pi director Ang Lee and Chinese actress Gong Li, and sparked controversy with her speech in support of Taiwan independence. Fu Yue’s speech resonated with a lot of young people in Taiwan even though many in the older generation disagreed. Fu’s documentary will close the Taiwan Film Festival, and her post-screening discussion will open possibilities for dialogues between generations and identities.
Like the US, Taiwan is a very diverse society. It has indigenous people with thousands of years of history, and many waves of immigrants: benshengrenfrom China hundreds of years ago, millions who came over with Chang Kai-shek in the late 1940’s, and a recent population from Southeast Asia and abroad. Combined with a history of colonization by the Dutch and Japanese, this diversity has produced some historical traumas. Taiwan’s first female president Tsai Ying-Wen established the Transitional Justice Commission in 2018 to address these traumas, but the film “Journey with Invisible friends” seeks the same goals. This lighthearted story leads the audience through folk religion and spirits mediums, as director Mitch Lin seeks spiritual reconciliationof a 300-year-old conflict between Han immigrants from China and the indigenous Siraya people of Taiwan. Lin and his team will join the festival.
These directors and documentaries are leading Taiwanese film to the next wave. They are the fruits of a mature film industry sponsored by a strong audience base and consistent government support, even as directors often stand on the opposite side of official government views. Good stories are seen and rewarded in the market. Taiwanese society is ready to share its stories with the world, stories that are reflective, humorous, poignant, and honest. Bostonians will find these documentaries as compelling as any fictional drama, as they build conversations about universal human stories under the umbrella of Taiwan’s liberty and democracy: youth and growth, legacy and struggle, life and death. Taiwan is the US’s most important ally in in East Asia. Let’s celebrate Taiwan’s achievements, cultural and legal, and let its sprit of young democracy be a breath of fresh air for our increasingly polarized society.
Taiwan Film Festival of Boston creates a Blank Space for dialogue
From the black box of cinema opens a blank space for dialogue. Boston Taiwan Film Festival May 26thto 27thpresent 6 acclaimed documentaries, plus in-person talks from 4 filmmakers, to reveal the many facets of the Taiwanese experience as expressed through human stories that also transcend nations and cultures. We will also welcome insights from the filmmakers, whose stories contribute to the cultural landscape of Taiwan, China, the U.S., and Canada.
Yang Li-Chou (“Father”) is a pioneer in developing the Taiwanese documentary industry, and has long been an advocate for their inclusion in mainstream cinema. Yang’s documentaries combine deep research with top-level production and entertaining narratives, bringing detailed human stories to a big stage. His story of a master puppeteer searching for his legacy is put into dialogue with Frank Chen (“Late Life: The Chien-Ming Wang Story”), a Taiwanese-Canadian filmmaker and musician based in New York City who explores themes of striving and legacy ofthe first and only Taiwanese player for the New York Yankeesthat spans across nations.
While other directors often skirt the issues of politics, Fu Yue’s (“Our Youth in Taiwan”) documentaries dive head on into the political and economic landscape of Taiwan. Through her documentaries, she opens a space for critical dialogue and fearless exploration of what our societies might become. Her portrayal of youth and courage is put into dialogue with Jonathan Yang (“Lost Black Cats”), who left a career in music video and advertising to devote 6 years to researching a story of young pilots willing to make sacrifices for their nation but in the end some of them have no choice but to make the US their new home.
Mitch Lin (“A Journey with Invisible Friends”), whose background includes academic teaching, magazine editing, and novel writing, brings historical and human insights to a story of spiritual reconciliation between a historical Taiwan naval hero Kosinga (鄭成功) and the Siraya aboriginal people. This frank exploration of historical trauma is put into dialogue with Maso Chen (“Silent Teacher”), who portrays the many lives touched by one woman’s gift after death.
And many more dialogues are possible. Between each work of art, between audience and filmmaker, between your stories and the lives portrayed in each documentary. Taiwan Film Festival of Boston invites you to come, see stories that might otherwise be hidden by time or geography, and add your voice the dialogue that grow from these exquisitely particular yet universally human stories.
Beyond Identity: The Taiwan Film Festival Searches for Dialogue
The inaugural Taiwan Film Festival will be held on Memorial Day weekend, May 26th and 27th 2019, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The festival is organized by a group of Taiwan movie lovers from different backgrounds, and aims to offer a platform for sharing an authentic cinematic experience of newly released Taiwanese movies to an American audience.
This year, the Festival will feature six poignant and critically acclaimed documentaries from Taiwan, plus in-person discussions with directors and producers, all under one roof in the heart of Kendall Square. These films showcase a diverse set of real-life stories: “Our Youth in Taiwan” chronicles the contemporary student-led sunflower movement, while “Black Cat Squadron” offers a very different vision of youth and courage through the story of pilots on a secret Cold War mission. “Father” explores inheritance through a master puppeteer seeking to build a family legacy and preserve a disappearing craft, while “Silent Teacher” details one woman’s ultimate gift after death. “A Journey with Invisible Friends” seeks spiritual reconciliation of a 300-year-old trauma between Han Chinese and Siraya aboriginals, while “Late Life: The Chien-Ming Wang Story” recounts a NY Yankees baseball star’s struggle for redemption after a career-threatening injury. Even more dramatic than fiction, these stories will fascinate, entertain, and spur intellectual reflection. International movie lovers and scholars of the world, rejoice!
Boston film critics are already familiar with the outstanding cinematographic language and the humanistic depth of Taiwanese movies. In 2000, director Ang Lee’s film ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’ won the Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Foreign Language Film. This movie adapted Taiwan’s first martial arts film from 1959, transforming it to a modern genre and earning it global success. Likewise, BSFC recognized the talents of Edward Yang, one of the leading directors of Taiwan's New Wave movement in the 90s, and nominated him for Best Director. Yang’s film “Yi Yi” (A One and A Two) is now also regarded as one of the major films of the 21st century.
The high bar set by directors like Ang Lee and Edward Yang hasn’t stopped younger Taiwanese movie directors from pushing their craft further. Growing up in the most liberal and active civil society in East Asia, these young directors are more fearless than their predecessors, and willing to put their cameras directly in front of the once hidden personal stories, without any reservations. These filmmakers explore the many historical faces of Taiwan, from its colonization by both the Dutch and Japanese to its rule by an authoritative National Party that retreated from China in 1949 to Taiwan’s blossoming into a vibrant democracy in the 1990s. Young directors in Taiwan are now casting light into the historical shadows and bringing truth, humanity and touching life stories back to the public. The goal of the first Taiwan Film Festival is to make these artistic achievements accessible to all in Boston, build dialogue among a diverse audience, and bring the stories of Taiwan to the world stage.