Mon, Jun 12, 2017 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Chi Po-lin died pursuing his dreams

By Christie Chen  /  CNA, with staff writer

Filmmaker Chi Po-lin records footage for the sequel to his documentary Beyond Beauty: Taiwan From Above in an undated photograph.

Photo courtesy of Taiwan Aerial Imaging

Filmmaker Chi Po-lin (齊柏林) gave up many things to pursue his dream of documenting Taiwan through aerial photography.

He mortgaged his house, borrowed money from friends and quit his job as a civil servant at the age of 47 — just three years before qualifying for a lifetime pension — all to make his 2013 documentary Beyond Beauty: Taiwan From Above (看見台灣), which became the highest-grossing documentary in Taiwanese history.

On June 10, the acclaimed director lost his life at the age of 52 while doing what he loved most — shooting images of his homeland from a helicopter.

The aircraft that carried the father of two and his 25-year-old assistant photographer, Chen Kuan-chi (陳冠齊), crashed while filming in Hualien County, resulting in their death and that of pilot Chang Chi-kuang (張志光). The team was filming for the sequel to Beyond Beauty when the accident happened.

News of Chi’s death shocked film and cultural circles.

“Contemporary Taiwan has just lost someone like Chi Po-lin — a man of conscience who was willing to sacrifice himself,” said commercial director Lu Chien-chang (盧建彰), who shot a short film featuring Chi for Google Inc in 2012.

Lu, who later became close friends with Chi, described the director as a warm and kind person.

“He always had a smile on his face and almost never got angry with people, whether he was dealing with work or other challenges,” Lu said. “I never saw him say mean words to others. He was always a warm person.”

“He risked his life in the air for every photograph he took. My heart aches tremendously,” TV commentator Sisy Chen (陳文茜), another friend, wrote on Facebook.

Chi, who had more than 20 years of experience filming from helicopters, appeared to be fully aware of the risk involved.

In writings and interviews, the director recounted some of the scarier moments he had experienced, especially when filming over mountainous areas.

One time, filming at Yushan (玉山), Chi’s helicopter pilot lost control of the aircraft after encountering a turbulence, Chi wrote in one of his books. “My mind went blank. Before I could say my prayers, I screamed and shouted instinctively. In those seconds, I really believed the chopper was going to go down.”

“That was not the only time...fortunately, we were always able to pull off a narrow escape, but no matter how many times this has occurred, I am still frightened when it does. I never dare tell my family these things because I am afraid they would worry,” he wrote.

Every time something like this happened, Chi told himself to quit flying and not take the risk, he said.

“However, after I wake up the next day, or after some time has passed and I see the good weather and good visibility, I always want to fly again,” he wrote.

Chi’s passion for aerial photography began while he was an employee at the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, where he was responsible for documenting major construction projects such as highway construction from the air.

As his interest grew, Chi rented helicopters in his spare time to take pictures of Taiwan’s mountains, coastline and other scenery.

In 2009, after witnessing the damage inflicted by Typhoon Morakot, which triggered the worst flooding in Taiwan in half a century, Chi purchased his own filming equipment for about NT$30 million (US$996,413), quit his job and set off to make a film to warn people about the importance of environmental protection.

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