Fri, Jun 22, 2007 - Page 16 News List

Taipei Film Festival in a bind

Taiwan's other annual film showcase is making a name for itself on the international stage, but problems at home may derail that success

By Ho Yi  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Secret in the Wind, a short by Wang Yen-ni

PHOTOS: COURTESY OF TAIPEI FILM FESTIVAL

The Taipei Film Festival is Taiwan's most democratic high-profile cinematic showcase. In some cases that's a good thing; in others it's not.

Unlike the older Golden Horse Film Festival (金馬影展), which only features high-profile works from around the world, the Taipei Film Festival (台北電影節) has become a platform for more diverse international and local productions. The emphasis is on encouraging young Taiwanese directors, and its national competition section, the Taipei Awards, welcomes works made in all types of formats. Prizes worth NT$1 million are handed out in each of four categories - narrative, documentary, experimental and animation - offering a comprehensive panorama of Taiwanese cinema.

This year's Taipei Awards once again sees a troupe of noted local productions, including box office success Island Etude (練習曲) by En Chen (陳懷恩), Berlinale winner Spider Lilies (刺青) and Tsai Ming-liang's (蔡明亮) I Don't Want to Sleep Alone (黑眼圈). Other films by both young and experienced filmmakers will make their world premieres here. And there will be an abundance of talent scouts and foreign festival curators looking for the new faces of Taiwanese cinema.

One of the festival's opening films and a strong contender in both the Taipei Awards and the International New Talent Competition section is The Most Distant Course (最遙遠的距離). Director Lin Jing-jie's (林靖傑) feature debut tells the story of three Taipei residents escape to picturesque eastern Taiwan. Technically proficient, the film unfolds with a visually exuberant contrast between the cold, blue urban landscapes and the warm, golden-hued countryside as the protagonists travel great distances to find themselves.

Then there's The Wall Passer (穿牆人) by celebrated poet, theater director and filmmaker Hung Hung (鴻鴻). Possibly the most imaginative work Taiwan cinema has seen in the past year, it ingeniously blends science fiction with a romantic coming-of-age story about teenager who uses a magic stone to travel between two worlds. Taking a surrealistic approach to the material, the director's creativity doesn't stop with his film's glossy, stylish cinematography. This is a philosophical reflection that relates the increasing blurred boundaries between the real world and virtual reality with the ancient philosopher Zhuang Zi's (莊子) famous butterfly dream.

The documentary category also sees a diversity of issues and interests. A rare personal account of left-wing activists who suffered under the Chinese Nationalist Party's White Terror is documented in If I Have to Die 1,000 Times (如果我必須死一千次-台灣左翼紀事), while The Forgotten Corner (遺忘的國度-樂生療養院紀錄片) takes a sober look at the recent controversy over the Losheng (Happy Life) Sanatorium by recording the personal histories of its aging residents.

Film critic Mai Jo-yu (麥若愚) said TFF is a fair showcase for local productions that, for the most part, miss out on the Hong Kong- and China-dominated Golden Horse Awards (金馬獎). And TFF's Global Chinese Cinerama section gives Taiwan's filmmakers a chance to learn from the best Chinese filmmakers.

"I think the works of the sixth generation of directors in China in this year's Chinese cinema section serve as great examples for Taiwan's young filmmakers, in that they eloquently demonstrate how art-house cinema can also tell a good story that can be enjoyed by members of the general public," Mai said.

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