When Urban Nomad Film Festival first launched in 2002, fledging filmmakers submitted their work on VHS tapes and audience members sat on scavenged carpet and chairs in a warehouse at Huashan 1914 Creative Park (華山1914) (then known as Huashan Arts District, 華山藝文特區).
Now Urban Nomad is host to the Taiwanese premiere of Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove, which will screen this evening at the Armed Forces Cultural Center (國軍文藝活動中心). The festival closes on May 8 with The Shock Doctrine, based on the book of the same name by Naomi Klein and directed by Mat Whitecross and Michael Winterbottom.
But the festival remains true to its roots. In addition to an international lineup of documentaries, several nights of short film, most by young Taiwanese filmmakers, will be screened.
“We wanted to show films other festivals wouldn’t show. That hasn’t changed, we still do that now. For local filmmakers, we want to give them a chance to see their films on screen,” says Sean Scanlan, who, along with David Frazier, founded Urban Nomad in 2002.
In 2007, Urban Nomad shifted from a weekend film festival to a weeklong event and launched its current format, which mixes feature films and documentaries from around the world with short films by local filmmakers each night in a double feature.
The awards program for short films is run with the Taiwan Original Filmmakers Union (TOFU, 電影創作聯盟); from more than 200 submissions, the festival picked eight nominees. These include a documentary, short fictional films and what Frazier describes as a “52-minute mash-up of horror films and techno music” called Abbadon.
“We tell the jurors when they’re choosing the prize winner that what we’re looking for is creativity and new energy. Technical achievement is not the number one criteria,” says Frazier.
Since its launch, the Urban Nomad Film Festival has run the topical gamut. Films shown in previous years ranged from the hardcore “sci-fi porn” I.K.U. by Taiwanese American filmmaker Shu-lea Cheang (鄭淑麗) to documentaries about backyard wrestling and the band Sonic Youth. Most of the festival’s documentaries have focused on social issues, however, and this year is no exception. Several documentaries, including The Cove, Sharkwater and The Shock Doctrine, will be shown with Chinese subtitles for the first time.
“In the last 10 years since we started this festival, the documentary genre has just exploded. There are more people making documentaries, there are documentaries made on more topics and because they are cheaper to produce, they are coming from more different points of view,” says Frazier.
This year’s schedule includes documentaries on music sampling and copyright issues (Copyright Criminals), the Gaza Strip (To Shoot an Elephant) and Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva (Bullshit).
Three documentaries focus on ocean conservation. Urban Nomad teamed up with Flash Forward, a film distribution company that bought the Taiwanese rights to The Cove and Sharkwater, a documentary about shark hunting. The Cove, about dolphin hunting in Japan, will be shown with Taiwan’s Critically Endangered Dolphins, a nine-minute short by the Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association (蠻野心足生態協會) that will be subtitled in Chinese for the first time.
A panel discussion tomorrow will feature guest speakers from Wild at Heart, the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST, 動物社會研究會) and Matsu’s Fish Conservation Union (媽祖魚保育聯盟), as well as nature photographer and filmmaker Ke Jin-yuan (柯金源). Frazier and Scanlon say one of the reasons they chose conservation as a theme for this year’s festival is because the Asia-Pacific Green Network (APGN, a federation of environmental groups) will hold its annual conference in Taipei starting today.
“This year the environmental issue is very, very big after the [UN Climate Change Conference last December], the hopes leading up to it and the letdown after it,” says Frazier. “Suddenly we had these films available to us and we knew activist groups that were really involved in these issues in Taiwan, so we thought this makes a good theme.”
“We want movie-watching to be more of a social experience,” he adds. “We’re happy to bring audiences in contact with these kinds of groups, so it’s not just watching a movie but seeing what you can do to make your little corner of the world better.”
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