Away from Home: Documentaries About Disasters and Struggles over Land in Taiwan

The progression towards the production and screening of documentaries in Taiwan largely grew out of a 1980s spike in social action, and the popularity of the far-reaching documentary movement centered around the FullShot Video Workshop beginning in the 1990s. These independent filmmakers were activists closely linked to various social movements based around human rights, Taiwan’s indigenous peoples, and environmental preservation. Their work came to embody the importance of documenting present-day Taiwan and advocating for social justice through the camera—and the impact it could have. Disasters that ravaged Taiwan during that time—such as the 921 Earthquake in 1999, and the devastating mudflows after Typhoon Morakot in 2009—propelled these determined artists toward making documentary records, told from the perspective of the disaster victims.

Thus far, there have been many excellent documentaries made on the subject of major disasters in Taiwan, and we have screened them at this film festival at every available opportunity. This year, we introduce seven films that follow process of recovery in the long term, painstakingly documenting not only survivors’ yearning for the homes and mountains they have left behind, but also struggles over the restoration of ancestral land. Beginning with Huang Shu-mei’s works, which are specially featured this year, these films bring Taiwan’s social issues into sharp relief, through the lens of people’s suffering in the wake of disaster. These social issues, which persist in the present day, involve the preservation of the environment, and the restoration of indigenous peoples’ rights. At the same time, these films pose the question of how we should live now and into the future, in the face of a rapidly changing natural environment.

This program was made possible through the generous support of the following joint sponsors: Ministry of Culture, Republic of China (Taiwan); and Taiwan Culture Central, Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Japan. Additionally, Wood Lin, program director of the Taiwan International Documentary Festival and Taiwan Film Institute kindly coordinated with us for the selection of films. We would like to thank them all for their help and support.

Hata Ayumi
Taiwan Program Coordinator

Somewhere over the Namasia

TAIWAN / 2012 / Bunun, Chinese / Color / Digital File / 58 min

Director, Editing: Tsai Yi-feng
Photography: Tsai Yi-feng, Chang Yu-wei, Wu Shiau-yu, Chang Tien-ming, Alex Chang
Music: Sipun Isnagkuan
Source: Tsai Yi-feng

In 2009, Namasia District in Kaohsiung was devastated by mudslides brought on by Typhoon Morakot. This left the surviving Bunan people faced with the crucial decision of where to rebuild their lives—either relocate to another area, return to the destruction of their hometown, or live out their days in free disaster relief housing that they will never truly own. Whatever choice they make, their desire to return one day to their mountain home remains unchanged.

Kanakanavu Await

TAIWAN / 2010 / Kanakanavu, Chinese / Color / Digital File / 95 min

Director: Mayaw Biho
Script, Editing, Executive Producer: Salone Ishahavut
Photography: Chang Huan-yu, Li Han-wen, Chen Chin-tai
Music: Wen Tzu-chieh
Producer, Source: Lungnan Isak Fangas

The Kanakanavu are an indigenous people that live on the shores of Dakanuwa Creek, upstream on the Nanzixian River that runs through Kaohsiung City. Forced to evacuate due to mudslides during Typhoon Morakot, the 400 members of their tribe return after the disaster to set about, with their own hands, the reconstruction of their homes. This film documents their struggle as they regain their former way of life and their pride in their ancestral land.

Twelve Stories About the Flood

TAIWAN / 2011 / Chinese, Aborigine / Color / Digital File / 60 min

Director, Editing: Hsu Hui-ju
Photography: Chi Chun-ming
Music: Panai Kusui
Executive Producer: Chen Yi-ju
Producer: Ku Kuo-wei
Source: Hsu Hui-ju

Nangisalu Village in Namasia District, Kaohsiung is another community severely damaged by Typhoon Morakot. This film documents, over the course of twelve stories, the harsh realities, sorrows, and helplessness experienced by the indigenous people that lost their homes in the disaster.

Out of Place

TAIWAN / 2012 / Chinese, Taiwanese / Color / Digital File / 78 min

Director, Script: Hsu Hui-ju
Photography, Producer: Chi Chun-ming
Editing: Chen Hui-ping
Source: Hsu Hui-ju

The family of the director’s husband that may be descended from the Pingpu, an indigenous people of Taiwan, explore the clues to this ancestry and reflect on their ethnic identity. Meanwhile, in disaster stricken Siaolin Village, the cultural heritage of the Pingpu people is facing a crisis following Typhoon Morakot. This film is a meditative journey on the search for and loss of one’s hometown.