Sat, Jun 05, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Taking a German perspective on Taiwan

Leading German filmmaker Monika Treut has produced two films about the country that focus on politics and women

By Yu Sen-lun  /  STAFF REPORTER

German film director Monika Treut.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

Last month in Hamburg, a documentary film called The President's Belly -- recording the election campaign and post-election protests -- was shown to an audience of 200 people.

The film documented the emotional events and happenings, such as the 228 Hand-in-Hand human chain rally, the party concerts, the night after the shooting of Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), and the angry protesters demanding a recount.

The film provides an on-the-spot documentary from an European point of view of that dramatic month, from Feb 28 to the end of March. What amazed the audience in Hamburg, as well as director Monika Treut herself, was the energy and passion Taiwanese people demonstrate toward politics.

One-and-half-years ago, Monika Treut, a distinguished German filmmaker known for her works challenging the limits of gender and sexuality, considered herself as an European. But now, she thinks of herself as being a little Taiwanese. When she talked to me at a cafe near National Taiwan University, she drank Taiwan beer, smoked Long Life cigarettes and carried a mobile phone with Taiwanese Aboriginal totems attached.

"For me, the most fascinating part of Taiwanese culture is the mixture of all cultural influences, the Portuguese, the Japanese, the US influences, and the political impact of the KMT in the past, and now people trying to find a new identity as Taiwanese," she said.

In September 2002, Treut was invited by organizers of the Women Make Waves Film and Video Festival (女性影展) in Taipei to be the "director in focus." The next year, she was invited for the second time to Taiwan by the Golden Horse Awards (金馬獎) to be a member of the international jury.

"The people and their lives I've seen are wonderful and I've decided that I'd make a film about Taiwan," Treut said.

For Treut, the best way to illustrate Taiwan's unique quality is to mix the cultures and colors of life through telling stories of Taiwanese women.

In fact, The President's Belly is more like a prelude to Treut's feature-length film, temporarily titled Tiger Women Grow Wings.

The film marks the first German-Taiwan co-production venture, with Treut's Hyena Films, German Culture Ministry and Taiwan's Public Television Service (公視, PTS). PTS invested NT$1 million in the NT$4 million film.

The film, which she has just finished shooting, tells about the lives and stories of Taiwanese women from three generations. Three outstanding women, author Li Ang (李昂), Taiwanese opera actress Hsieh Yue-hsia (謝月霞), and 23-year-old film director DJ Chen (陳映蓉) are featured in the film.

Treut refers to"Tiger Women" becauuse Taiwan is known as a "tiger economy." This, she said, also can refer to women's strength confronting hardships in life. The title is also a play-with-words on the Chinese idiom "like tigers grow wings" (如虎添翼) -- which means gaining extra power from an already strong position.

"In a way, growing wings means these women are free and independent from the traditional constrains," Treut said.

Making portraits of strong women has always been a motif of Treut's filmmaking. In the past Treut has made documentaries about dominatrix and actress Eva Norvind, provocative feminist professor Camille Paglia and human rights activist Yvonne Bezerra de Mello working in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. Now, it's the turn of three Taiwanese women.

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