Fri, Oct 27, 2006 - Page 13 News List

Keeping the record straight

Taiwan's documentary cinema has experienced an accelerated development since it first broke out in the mid-1980s


Twilight Zon9 (九命人) represents a more personal and harder take the issue of corporal punishment.


Inaugurated with the aim of becoming a platform for new Asian talent, the Asian Network of Documentary (AND) was initiated this year by a group of professionals from Pusan International Film Festival in South Korea, Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival in Japan, Bangkok International Film Festival in Thailand and Taiwan International Documentary Festival (TIDF, 台灣國際紀錄片雙年展).

“Following the model of the Pusan Promotion Plan (PPP), AND attempts to provide comprehensive support to documentary filmmakers through funding and technical and marketing advice,” said Jane Yu (游惠貞), TIDF's director.

Without a doubt, Taiwan's documentary film industry has come a long way since the mid-1980s, and is now an active member of the international market.

Before the lifting of martial law in 1987, newsreels, public service and propaganda films constituted documentary films. Undercurrents of local voices had been present in works made by members of the intelligentsia from the Theater (劇場) magazine in 1960s and the Fragrant Formosa series (芬芳寶島) that focused on Taiwan's folk customs and landscapes in the 1970s, according to Lin Jui-yu (林睿育), one of the creators of A Retrospective Collection of Documentary Films From Taiwan With Films From the Early 1930s to Today (台灣當代影像-從紀實到實驗), a collection of films and accompanying discourses which examine the history of local non-fiction cinema.

The emergence of the Green Squad (綠色小組) in the mid-1980s was a landmark in Taiwan's documentary cinema. Rebelling against the oppressive state machine and encouraged by the availability of affordable and easy-to-operate equipment, the group epitomized a new generation of filmmakers eager to record street protests unleashed by the loosening of political controls.

Meanwhile, thriving filmmakers' groups — such as the Full Shot Foundation (全景傳播基金會), a documentary filmmaker workshop established in 1988 and Multidimensional Workshop (多面向藝術工作室) founded by scholar and respected filmmaker Lee Daw-ming (李道明) in 1989 — shone the spotlight on social issues such as environmental problems and the emerging Aboriginal movements.

In the 1990s, the Integrated Community Development Project (社區總體營造), initiated by the Council for Cultural Affairs (文建會), stimulated a new wave of social projects and called for the preservation of the country's disappearing cultural heritage. This changing social milieu also encompassed innovation in local documentary filmmaking.

“After the era of protest ended, cultural workers turned to communities for local cultural and historical surveys and unearthed a great amount … of documents that had been hitherto unknown. Historical and cultural perspectives thus became a trend in documentary works,” said Kuo Jen-ti (郭珍弟), a veteran female documentary filmmaker whose oeuvre covers various social issues.

In 1996, Tainan National University of the Arts (國立台南藝術大學), adhering to the left-wing tradition that sees the documentary genre as a tool for social critique, launched the Graduate Institute of Sound and Images Studies in Documentary. The establishment of Public Television Service (PTS) and TIDF soon followed in 1998.

Within five years, documentary films changed from education tools to works of entertainment aired on showcase channels. An era of diversification soon followed.

“Like many Third World countries, Taiwan's documentary cinema began with street protests ... but now documentary filmmakers no longer slash the system with axes and shout in front of a microphone,” said Yang Li-chou (楊力州), a veteran documentary filmmaker and chairman of the Taiwan Documentary Development Association (中華民國紀錄片發展協會).

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