An Interview with Kuo Hsiao-yun (Director)
Resilient People Who Do Business in the Village Where Family Was Buried
Q: Why did you select these people as subjects (the three Ju brothers in the village of Nangang in Guosing Township, Nantou County)?
KH: First, everything changed 180 degrees with the earthquake, and the battlefield-like landscape was just a shock, and I was having a hard time finding a theme. Just then Wu Yii-feng, the director of Gift of Life, was in the same village filming families that were dispersing. So in contrast, I thought of filming people who stayed behind in the village, even in those circumstances.
In the end, I picked Hakka villagers rather than the comparatively staid ethnic minority, and at any rate, they were brave people, even in that context. To me they were appealing in a way that was different from people in other stricken areas—they were tough to the point of being awesome, carving out their own future without relying on anyone, maybe because if they didn’t do it themselves nothing would move forward in those harsh circumstances.
Q: But in the film I was struck by the quiet, long shots of the landscape taken in nature. What were your intentions in using shots like that?
KH: The earthquake was a natural phenomenon and it created that disaster area, but some people were rebuilding the roads, and other people wanted to leave the road just as it was and make a memorial park. I wanted to show the changes in how people work. But even saying so, in the end humans can’t escape from nature. There’s the flow of the seasons and time, and people also change within the large framework of nature. I consciously included the images to convey that.
Q: Did you have any difficulties in your ongoing relations with the people living in the village, who were so powerful?
KH: They assertively spoke up about things connected to their own self-interest and survival, and were heedless of the camera in laying bare their interests. I wanted to thoroughly document their way of life that exposed desire to an extent that usually is inconceivable, but in fact, sometimes filming was tough and I didn’t want to go. The most surprising thing was that during three months after the earthquake the survivors franticly searched for buried family members, but thereafter, they started a store for tourists at the same place. That change was just too much for me, and for a while I didn’t feel like filming.
However, after six months had passed, in their destroyed home that had become a tourist spot, I saw a woman crying as she looked at photographs from that time. I asked why, and she replied that she’s overwhelmed there were disaster victims much worse off than herself, and she pledged to be stronger. And when I looked into it, I found that the first people who came as tourists were disaster victims from the area just outside the village. They visited the village for encouragement and healed their psychological wounds through talking about the disaster with people in the village. I thought it was interesting, and that’s when I started filming again.
Q: At the end of the film, finally the village has returned to its former life. What did you come to see through finishing the filming?
KH: When I started making documentaries, I was trying to show only people’s positive faces, but through this piece, I’ve come to show people as being more three dimensional and complex. Maybe I’m challenging viewers with the message that “People aren’t so simple, you know.” When I show this film to audiences, it’s interesting because reactions are completely different even though it’s the same people on the screen—some people like them, and others don’t. However, I needed to take a complex approach to show this, not only regarding myself and the people in the documentary, but also in ascertaining the distance between the villagers, and sometimes stepping back to a reporter’s stance. There was no need to assist their recovery through the documentary, since they regained their strength on their own.
(Compiled by Sato Hiroaki)
Interviewer: Sato Hiroaki / Interpreter: Yoshii Takashi
Photography: Wada Mitsuko / Video: Yamaguchi Yoshihide / 2005-10-06 / in Tokyo