Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival
Report (Part 2)
September 19-26, 1998
Question and Answer Sessions
It appeared the preconception that documentaries deal largely with social issues was much stronger in Taiwan than in Japan. The social and political background of Taiwan may have something to do with this. Other possibilities for documentary were, I felt, reflected in the program selection, possibly with the intention of educating the audience, and seemed to be accepted by many viewers. My submission to the festival, Phases of Real ("Iso") was that type of work, and, for better or for worse, mostly elicited the reaction, "So there are also these kinds of documentaries." Yet I was very happy when young viewers and festival staff studying documentary film offered good opinions of it. They posed a variety of questions about why I structured the film the way I did, interweaving serious happenings (the death of my grandmother) with comical fiction (the whirlpool of relationships between imaginary people), and gradually mixing the two aspects; as well as about why I had a mechanical voice recite the superimposed words on the screen.
In my case, there was a Chinese-Japanese interpreter to assist me in the Q&A session. When interpreting into Japanese for me, she always spoke loudly and clearly, so that the Japanese members of the audience could also hear. I thought that this was not only very thoughtful but made proceedings all the more smooth. There were a multitude of questions, not only with my film, but also in the Q&A sessions proceeding the screenings of other films. I, along with other members of the YIDFF, were taken aback by their quality and intelligence.
During the festival, documentary forums took place over four days from 7 to 9pm. They covered a variety of themes such as "Documentary Market," "Documentary Production," "Interactions Between Cultures in Documentary Films," and "The Social Functions of Documentaries." The forums were sponsored by a television station, rather than the film festival organizing committee, and the chairperson also appeared to be from the television industry. Because he was not a documentary specialist, the focus of the talk tended to waver, depending on the topic, requiring festival program coordinator Jane Hui-Chen Yu to step in to help. For me, this was the only slightly disappointing thing I felt as a participant of the TIDF.
As a panelist on "Documentary Production," I introduced myself as not being a documentary filmmaker, which the chairperson didn't seem to understand. It was the kind of situation like the question and answer session after the screening of my work, where people finally understood me after discussing the boundary of documentary film. During the discussion I talked about the difficulties I encountered in society as an independent filmmaker after graduating from university in Japan. One of my co-panelists Feng Yan (a Chinese filmmaker whose Dreams of Changjiang was screened in the New Asian Currents Program at the YIDFF '97 and who has lived in Japan before) was able to interpret for me in fluent Japanese. YIDFF coordinator Fujioka Asako was a panelist for the "Documentary Market" discussion and she answered many questions, confirming a strong interest in the YIDFF amongst the participants. With Taiwanese filmmaker Wu Yi-feng revealing the current situation of documentary film in Taiwan and its bold prospects for the future, and festival guest and Japanese filmmaker Tsuchiya Yutaka giving a talk about his recently begun independent distribution project for film, this seemed a very fruitful discussion. I attended the discussion "The Social Functions of Documentaries" as a member of the audience and was left with the impression that the entire talk pertained only to Taiwanese issues.
The main venue was situated on one of the floors in the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Department Store and proved to be a very functional space. Acting as a refreshments corner during program intervals, it also served as some place to conduct informal interviews and meetings, and where filmmakers as well as staff and audience members could intermingle with one another. A drink company which was sponsoring the festival provided free coffee and orange juice. Being on a department store floor, there was no alcohol and the store closed its doors at 9pm, giving the place a somewhat uptight feeling. According to Chang Yann (one of the promoters for this festival and selection committee member who has previously studied in Japan and now teaches theater and documentary film at a Taiwanese university), drinking tends to be looked down upon in Taiwan and therefore "alcohol" has no links to the festival. Nevertheless, Mr. Chang told me laughingly that he loves to go drinking with his students and that because of this, he is seen as somewhat odd by those around him. A previous visitor to the YIDFF, he recognized the importance of such a place as the Komian Club * and lamented that there was no such establishment at the TIDF. However, he did invite us, the Yamagata delegation, to his favorite drinking hole night after night.
In all, the TIDF hosted four parties during the festival, including what appeared to be a hastily organized one for festival guests and staff. I was enormously pleased to receive praise about my work from a Taiwanese filmmaker whom I admire and then to be presented with a videotape of his own work. I enjoyed passionate discussions with festival staff (even in karaoke booths!), was constantly surprised at how young they were (amongst them, aspiring documentary filmmakers), and was touched by their sincerity and kindness.
As a forum where staff and festival visitors could enjoy broad exchange with one another, and where people of different languages and cultures could talk frankly about films and other topics, I strongly felt that such a festival was necessary and highly valuable. I believe this one aspect is the true driving force behind a film festival.
* Komian is a Japanese style pickle store/restaurant in the vicinity of the main venue which transforms into the Komian Club during the YIDFF. It is operated by local volunteers and comes alive at night when it caters to the film festival crowd until early hours of the morning.
Born 1967, Tokyo. Started making experimental films at Kyushu Institute of Design in 1987. Now teaches at Tohoku University of Art & Design in Yamagata City. His Phases of Real, shown in the Japanese Panorama of the YIDFF '97, was invited to the first Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival. His other works include filmy (1988) and AQUARIUM (1991).