Wed, Jun 13, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Celebrating community in four small films

The writers and directors of Filmmaker Nights Taipei: Short Film Development Project took the call for expat stories to heart, and shared that heart with their peers

By Kayleigh Madjar  /  Staff reporter

From left, directors Tobie Openshaw, William Chen, Aurelien Jegou and Paul Despins address the audience before screening their short films on May 27 at the Wonderful Theater in Taipei.

Photo: Kayleigh Madjar, Taipei Times

There are certain facets of life in Taiwan that stand in particular relief to expats. A mention of garbage truck music or the humidity is sure to conjure a knowing laugh or story, and help build the foundation for a sense of community.

For the screenwriters of Filmmaker Nights Taipei: Short Film Development Project, these topics provided the perfect starting point to move the conversation beyond the music.

“Everyone has their own story about the garbage truck music,” said Chris Lanning, writer of Chancy’s Big Night, one of the four shorts screened exclusively as part of the Urban Nomad Film Festival last month in Taipei.

Lanning’s story is based on his first hour in Taiwan. While chatting on the phone with his parents, the Beethoven-blaring garbage trucks drove by.

“My mom asked me: ‘Can you turn your music down?’” he said at the screening, the audience laughing along and sharing knowing glances.



Chancy’s Big Night takes the status this Taiwan quirk holds in the expat imagination and blows it up to grandiose proportion. Chancy (Paul Batt) is an “unknown composer of known compositions,” who shares with the mockumentary-style camera his self-proclaimed genius and exasperation with his student’s blank stares. When the Taipei City Council gives him a chance to conduct an orchestra, he proudly puts on his best clothes, to his wife’s rolling eyes, and stands outside his front door, earnestly conducting the garbage truck to the orchestral music in his head.

The absurd contrast of the electronic tunes with a lovely score played by Brian Kuo (郭世楷) and other Taipei American School students, was no doubt funny, but also hit a sensitive note about a feeling of stagnation shared by many expats.

Tobie Openshaw, director and event organizer, said that it is often difficult for foreigners to create films because “we are not foreign enough to get outsider funding and not local enough to get local funding,” in addition to the myriad other resources and community required for creative and other endeavors. Many people then become stuck and either give up their creative inclinations or find themselves discontent with the scope of their reach.

Chancy is an extreme version of the latter, a man who is convinced of his talents, but has no outlet other than to teach and write as an “unknown.” The result is an absurd juxtaposition of the ideal and the everyday, Chancy himself willingly giving into the illusion.

Watching Chancy conduct without the workers skipping a beat feels like a pointed warning against complacency and the trap of ego without a mirror, while achievement continues to elude.

The next two shorts had equally salient — albeit less abstract — points to make about foreigner anxieties: the family introduction and the looming possibility of having to leave.


Uncle Buddy opens with three of Aunt Patty’s (Sherry Lin) family members staring into the camera. They soon pull her aside to demand in hushed tones how she has the nerve to bring home her new boyfriend, who is black.

Director William Chen (陳惟元) places the camera in Buddy’s (James Thomas) shoes, eliciting the same anxiety any outsider would feel entering this private space, eager to make a good impression, but knowing he will have to fight an uphill battle.

Yet this “soul man,” is up to the task. The short ends with a departing Patty separated by the threshold, looking in at her three relatives, who insist that Buddy stay as their guest.

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