During the premiere of Tops Kinmen (金高粱) in Kinmen last year, a man approached director Dong Cheng-liang (董振良) and said: “You’d better stop showing this film, otherwise you’ll be held responsible for what may happen.”
This was not the first and certainly not the last threat Dong has received regarding the documentary that looks at the government-owned Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor company (金門酒廠), a highly profitable venture that has local politicians and bigwigs scrambling for a piece of the pie.
But the Kinmen-born director isn’t easily intimidated. He has been making films exploring the dark side of his hometown ever since he joined took up social activism in the 1980s with a camera in his hand. Six of his films are currently being shown as part of the Two Cities Film Festival (兩個城市影展) held at various venues across Taipei through Oct. 17. The second city of the festival’s title refers to Taipei, where Dong has made his home for the last two decades.
“Film is not only a personal creation, but a medium. … It has power to spread ideas and influence [people]. This is what I have believed since I first got involved in documentary-making and social activism more than 20 years ago,” Dong said.
Kinmen became a militarized zone when the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) arrived in 1949 and turned the island into a heavily fortified frontline where hundreds of thousands of military personnel were stationed and civilian life was strictly regulated. Martial Law was lifted in 1992, but for Dong, the legacy of the island’s militarized past is still very much alive.
Like many of his fellow townsmen, Dong left Kinmen for better opportunities on the mainland at a young age. One year after the lifting of Marital Law in Kinmen, Dong made Every Odd Numbered Day (單打雙不打), a feature film financed, co-directed and starring Kinmen’s residents. The film tells the island’s history from a local’s point of view, disclosing the not-so-distant collective memory of ravages inflicted by the artillery battles of the 1960s and 1970s that devastated the island.
Other films, such as Black Name (解密831) in 2000, and Military Zone Liberated (解放戰地)in 2003, deal with the island’s democracy movement in the first case and with the validity of nudity as a form of resistance in the second (it features two nude women wandering through the relics of the island’s war time past).
The director’s documentaries speak of memories and experiences that are simultaneously collective and personal. Songs of Min Nan’s Battlefield is a lyrical jaunt through the remnants of war and the crumbling traditional Fujian-style architecture. Devoid of dialogue, the images are accompanied by the patriotic songs that the islanders used to hear all day long, broadcast from both the Nationalist barracks and from military outposts on the Chinese coast. In films such as Will and Tops Kinmen, he contrasts memories of the island under martial law and the current neglect and bad management that continues to undermine the island’s development. Dong has never feared controversy, and in Tops Kinmen, as much as accuses the government of turning Kinmen’s residents into liquor peddlers (by selling the island’s famous Kaoliang spirit to locals at below cost), rather than improving the economy.
“The movie is about the fact that what happens in Kinmen now is shaping the new generation, much in the same way as the Marital Law era had a huge impact on the life of Kinmen today,” Dong said, “We have been brainwashed. Before it was by the military. Now it is through the so-called social welfare that satiates greed and placates opposition.”
Despairing that his films will ever be fully recognized and accepted by his fellow islanders, Dong’s filmmaking has taken a new direction.
Movie Eater (吃電影的人) was made after the director decided to take a new path from his activist filmmaking. Accompanied by Dong’s slightly awkward voice-over, the personal documentary is a blend of the artist’s past and present lives in Kinmen and Taipei. It feels like a confession of an artist for whom life and cinema are inseparable from each other.
As for his next project, Dong said he is making a documentary about nude performance artist Juan Ren-chu (阮仁珠) in Kaohsiung.
“Recently I have been thinking that I have done so many films and countless screenings, but do they make any impact? I have always been concerned with society as a whole, but now I am returning to the basics: Body and sexuality. Perhaps we can all start making changes by looking into our bodies that are shackled by social rules,” the 50-year-old director said.
For more information about the festival, email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (02) 8914-5953.
What: Two Cities Film Festival (兩個城市影展)
When and where: Sept. 15 and Sept. 16 at Wisteria Tea House (紫藤廬), 1, Ln 16, Xinsheng S Rd Sec 3, Taipei City (台北市新生南路三段16巷1號), Sept. 18 and Sept. 19 at Bitan Kinmen (碧潭˙金門), 2F, 208, Sindian Rd Sindian City, Taipei County (台北縣新店市新店路208號2樓), Sept. 25 and Sept. 26 at Kafka on the Shore (海邊的卡夫卡), 2F, 2, Ln 244, Roosevelt Rd Sec 3, Taipei City (台北市羅斯福路三段244巷2號2樓), Oct. 1 and Oct. 2 at Artco De Cafe (典藏咖啡館), 335, Bade Rd Sec 2, Taipei City (台北市八德路二段335號), Oct. 16 and Oct. 17 at 402 Park (402號公園) at the intersection of Bangka Boulevard (艋舺大道) and Xiyuan Road (西園路)
Tickets: All screenings are free
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