The Taipei Film Festival opened on June 20 in several locations; since then movie buffs have been running from one theater to the next to catch up with as many films as possible.
Movies are a cultural experience and should not be rushed or shoved down one’s throat like fast food. The current state of cinema in Taipei makes me feel that movie lovers need to start thinking about movies in a new way.
As a regular moviegoer, I have trouble coming to grips with these intense and rushed events. Nor do I like how officials have used such events to promote movie-going, or the way in which these officials have used small amounts of money to “help” the Taiwanese film industry.
I also don’t like it when self-pitying Taiwanese filmmakers on the one hand constantly blame Taiwanese for not supporting local films and on the other blame Hollywood dominance for their malaise.
The real problem with cinema in Taiwan is that for a long time now we have been unable to bring good films into our everyday lives. If we are serious about making Taipei a city that is defined by its culture and a love for cinema, we must get rid of the top-down policies in the industry and make bottom-up changes to cinema management and movie-going culture.
There are three things we can do to turn “cultural movies” that transcend the boundaries of commercial and arthouse product into an enriching cinematic experience for Taipei residents.
English novelist Virginia Woolf said that if a woman wants to become a professional writer, she needs her own place and economic independence. In the same vein, for Taipei to become a city characterized by a love for cinema, we must first have our cinemas operate in a steady financial manner.
SPOT-Taipei Film House, established and managed by the renowned Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien (侯孝賢), is a move in the right direction. However, in terms of the size of this cinema, its equipment and film selection, SPOT still targets a niche market for arthouse films, a market that is quite different to the “core” moviegoers I am talking about.
To produce high quality movies, the government must invest resources into our city’s cinemas: The screens need to be larger, the seats need to be more comfortable and standard Dolby Sound technology is crucial.
Second, movie theaters are of great cultural significance to modern intellectuals and must be linked closely to other creative and cultural aspects of a city such as coffee shops, jazz bars and specialty bookstores.
Areas near universities where academia and business flourish are particularly suited to the establishment of movie theaters. Such cinemas do not have to be built anew, but can be set up in existing and unused public spaces.
For example, a perfect place for a cinema would be the small auditorium located within National Taiwan Normal University’s (NTNU) campus on Heping E Road. The auditorium is a Taipei City Government-declared heritage site that was built during the Japanese occupation. Its exterior looks like the old cinema in the film Cinema Paradiso and is located right next to the lively Shida Road night market area. In addition, NTNU has the best fine arts and music faculties in the country and is also a center for training middle school teachers. Turning the auditorium into a base for cinematic culture would be the best possible strategy for combining culture and education.
Last and most important is the choice of films. The way that mainstream films open and close on the same day, as well as the way that arthouse programming is restricted to a small number of titles each week, actually discourages movie-lovers from going to the cinema. The way things are now, we don’t return to a theater where we have watched a movie until a new movie opens.
Moviemakers must focus on making a small but steady income from cultural films that are relevant to everyday lives. Those involved in cinema must also transcend dichotomies such as commercial/arthouse, Taiwanese/foreign and new/old films, as well as make use of a variety of programming similar to that of cable movie stations such as HBO.
At the same, quality Taiwanese movies and other arthouse and commercial product, together with shorter, non-commercial animated films, experimental movies and documentaries, should be included in programming as this would allow movie lovers to see different types of films at different times.
Newer and more popular movies can be screened for a longer time and used to promote other less prominent, but nonetheless entertaining, films. This is the only way to get more people into cinemas and to expand the viewing horizons of moviegoers.
More important, the government should invest in equipment and subsidize ticket prices so that watching movies can become a basic right and pastime.
If Taipei’s residents can learn to appreciate movies in this manner, I believe they will also come to better appreciate their city.
Peter Wu is an assistant professor of geography at National Taiwan Normal University.
TRANSLATED BY DREW CAMERON
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