"The biggest sadness of Taiwan, is that it's too near China." This is the opening quote in the documentary entitled Tug of War: The Story of Taiwan (拔河:台灣的故事). As the first documentary about Taiwan's history made by US filmmakers for an American audience, this quote encapsulates the island's quandary over the last century.
Produced by Judith Vecchinoe for a Boston, Massachusetts TV station, the film aired in the US three years ago and is now coming back to Taiwan. The 90-minute film, covering over 100 years of Taiwan's history, will be screened at the International Documentary Seminar, held by Public TV (公共電視), tomorrow at the Fubon International Conference Center. Vecchinoe will be leading the discussion on her film.
Also joining the three-day seminar is PBS producer Josh Aronson and his Oscar-nominated film Sound and Fury, about a family torn apart by medical technology which promises to end their shared deafness.
Vecchione depicts the last 100 years of Taiwan's history as caught between two opposing forces; nationalism and democratic development. Using a chronological narrative, the film traces Taiwan from the time of Japanese colonialism to the arrival of the KMT, the 228 incident, and the democratic movement of the 1980s. It discusses Taiwan's sometimes intimate, sometimes distant relations with China, and the ambiguity which has long-confused the nation's international status.
One of the real treats of the film is its use of several film clips of historical events which have never before been seen in documentary works about Taiwan. Scenes of Japanese industry in Taiwan and other footage taken during Japan's occupation, as well as later footage of police interrogations during the "White Terror" period in the 1950s are used to powerful effect. Vecchione also uses footage taken at the UN in 1971, when Taiwan's delegation announced that the country would withdraw from the world body.
To cover Taiwan's history in just 90 minutes makes this documentary highly condensed in terms of information. Politicians such as Peng Ming-min (彭明敏), Kang Ning-hsiang (康寧祥), Chien Fu (錢復), Lin I-hsiung (林義雄), former DPP chairman, all give their accounts of Taiwan's history. Peng recalled the day when KMT soldiers retreated in 1949 and Lin reads from his diary, written during his political imprisonment, about being tortured. For his part, late puppet master Lee Tien-lu (李天祿) performs a lively segment describing the how this local art became so closely tied to Taiwanese identity.
Politicos will appreciate the never-before published clips of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) rousing troops to regain the mainland as the propaganda song, Fighting Back to the Mainland, plays in the background.
Vecchione is no stranger to documentary festivals and has been seen at the Dupont Columbia and CINE Golden Eagle awards and even the Emmys. She is also an experienced filmmaker on stories about Asia and was the executive producer of The China Trilogy -- China in Revolution (1989), The Mao Years (1994) and Born Under the Red Flag (1997). Her non-Chinese works include Eleanore Roosevelt (2000), Vietnam : A Television History (1983) and Discovering Women (1995).
What: The International Documentary Seminar
When: Tomorrow to Friday
Where: Fubon International Conventional Center (
Times: Tug of War: The Story of Taiwan will screen tomorrow at 10am with a lecture given by Judith Vecchione at 9am.
Sound and Fury will screen tomorrow at 3pm with a lecture given by Josh Aronson starting at 2pm.
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