Tue, Apr 19, 2016 - Page 12 News List

Taiwan in the spotlight

The use of Taiwanese films to help reveal the nation’s social and political scenes has proved a hit with audiences in London

By Tony Phillips  /  Contributing reporter in London

Chen Yu-ching with Dafydd Fell at SOAS in London after the screening of Sunflower Occupation on Feb. 12.

Photo: Jewel Lo

For the vast majority of people in Europe, knowledge of the Taiwanese film scene extends no further than the work of director Ang Lee (李安) but a greater appreciation is being sparked by events such as the annual Taiwan Film Week at the Center of Taiwan Studies, part of the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

Director of the Center of Taiwan Studies, Dafydd Fell, has found the medium of film a useful tool to address themes such as politics, modern history, society and economics.

“I teach in a political science department but being in the Taiwan studies community, I get exposed to a range of disciplines, including film. So I often use Taiwanese films in my teaching of Taiwanese politics.”

Fell, who presented the paper Portrayals of Democratic Politics in Taiwanese Film at last month’s European Association of Taiwan Studies Conference in Prague, responded to student interest in Taiwan’s social movements by screening the documentaries Civil Disobedience (公民不服從) and Sunflower Occupation at this year’s Taiwan Film Week in February. After the screenings, which respectively focus on the unrest generated by the visit to Taiwan of Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) in 2008 and the events surrounding the occupation of the Legislative Yuan in 2014, the audience had the chance to take part in a question and answer session with director Chen Yu-ching (陳育青).

“The audiences tend to be quite diverse for the film screening events,” Fell says. “One group will be SOAS students taking our Taiwan courses but others will be non-students who are interested in Asian film, postgraduate students who have a film or Taiwan interest, [students at] other universities, members of the overseas Taiwanese community.”

“When we show social movement-related films then it is quite common for students who were activists in the past, but happen to be studying or working in the UK, to join screenings and they can bring something different to the discussion,” Fell says. “Social movement topics also tend to attract audience members from Hong Kong but also from China.”

Sunflower Occupation is an omnibus featuring different films outlining the progress and aftermath of the Sunflower movement, arguably the most important protest movement in a generation. Some of these look at the movement in its historical and social context, for example, by featuring former leaders of the Wild Lily Movement of 1990 talking about more recent events.

“It is definitely easier to record footage of social movements today,” Fell says. “In fact, in Sunflower Occupation some parts were filmed using phone cameras, such as the Executive Yuan occupation. However, recently a number of documentaries are being released about earlier social movements from the 1980s and 90s. I sense there is a lot of interest in the continuity between these earlier and more recent protest movements.”

“Recently there had been a stereotype that young people in Taiwan were just not interested in politics, thus the ‘Strawberry Generation’ label,” Fell says. “Election rallies tended to be dominated by older audiences. Recent protest movements and election campaigns have undermined that stereotype.”

Also featured in this year’s Taiwan Film Week was the The Losers (廢物), a film about three interconnected characters in Meinong (美濃), a Hakka district in Kaohsiung City, where land is being bought up by developers and estate agents.

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