FEATURE: Of men and their passion for the sea

OCEAN LIVES::Learning to scuba dive led Huang Chia-chun to his latest project, a tale of two Taiwanese men of the seas, which is scheduled to be released in April

By Yang Yuan-ting and William Hetherington  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Thu, Nov 28, 2019 - Page 4

Taiwanese should spend more time interacting with the ocean, which could make them “vigilant and respectful,” documentary director Huang Chia-chun (黃嘉俊) said.

Huang, whose most recent work, Whale Island (男人與他的海), is scheduled to be released in April, said the reverence he felt for the ocean was unique and different from what he felt for his parents.

Huang has made several documentaries, including 2011’s They Are Flying (飛行少年) — a story about young air force pilots — and 2013’s Rock Me to the Moon (一首搖滾上月球) — a story about fathers of sick children who unite through music.

Seven years ago, he learned to scuba dive and he fell in love with the ocean. However, he also saw first-hand the serious problems facing the oceans and marine life.

He wanted to encourage more Taiwanese to learn to love the ocean and to help protect it.

In Whale Island, Huang tells the story of two men whose lives revolve around the ocean and marine life, Liao Hung-chi (廖鴻基) and Chin Lei (金磊).

Chin was the nation’s first underwater photographer of whales and dolphins, whose passion has taken him all over the world, while Liao is a writer whose works focus on the ocean.

Liao once set sail from Taichung and rode the Kuroshio current for 144 hours aboard a small plastic raft that he made himself, eventually turning the 34 articles he wrote about his journey into the book Drifting on the Kuroshio (黑潮漂流), Huang said.

“Liao felt that drifting on the ocean was the story most worth telling. When you are on the ocean the world seems to be bigger,” the director said.

Huang spent three years filming Chin and Liao and producing the documentary, during which time his first child was born, which had a huge effect on his life and his approach to filming, he said.

“Initially I had wanted to use film as a way to portray the spirit of the sea. After my child was born I began thinking about how many fathers are alienated from their families, the same way most Taiwanese feel disconnected from the oceans,” he said.

Becoming a father forged another connection to Chin and Liao, in addition to a shared love of the sea, Huang said.

Liao’s wife left him, taking their daughter with her, because Liao spent too much time at sea, but after his daughter became sick, he was able to repair his relationship with his former spouse, Huang said.

Chin’s two children have always been afraid of watching their father dive, fearing the ocean will swallow him, Huang said.

His new film also explores the tug-of-war between a person’s dreams of their ideal life and reality, between jobs and family life.

“When your child is born you feel like you have to hold your child up high, you have a sense of responsibility as a man. This is why I have felt depressed since the birth,” he said.

Huang said he now wants to focus on fatherhood in his films and on expressing the “everyday man’s perspective,” he said.

Chin and Liao are of different generations, and in filming them Huang said he feels like he is seeing himself five years from now and 50 years from now.

Chin talked about going without sleep night after night after each of his children were born, Huang said.

“He said he would often see other photographers making progress with their work while he was ‘rushing around holding diapers and bottles.’ He once wondered whether he should quit photography,” Huang said.

Liao talked about how he would become so absorbed in his writing that he found himself estranged from his family, the director said.

This is “the shadow that ‘everyday men’ live in, which others cannot see,” he said.

His focus on men’s lives conflicts with the modern focus on women’s rights and women’s struggle for freedom, he said.

Men who look for examples of how to juggle family life and careers can only find examples of successful men, who are not representative of the norm, Huang said.

“Taiwan has the shape of a whale, which is why I chose ‘Whale Island’ as the film’s English-language title. Taiwanese are surrounded by the ocean, but most of us have forgotten about the ocean that is in our DNA,” he said.

He hopes his films can tell the stories of Taiwanese men of the sea who strive to break through the isolation their jobs entail, he said.

While Huang received initial subsidies from the Ministry of Culture and some sponsorship money from a local foundation for filming his latest work, he had to turn to crowdsourcing to raise the money to finish it.

He said he was able to meet his goal in just two weeks.

“I really want to thank everyone who supported me. It was really a miracle. It is like when you are filming in the mist at sea, you turn a corner and see a beautiful rainbow,” he said.

Additional reporting by CNA