An Interview with Huang Shu-mei (Director)
Aiming for a Documentary with Depth to Capture the Essence
Q: What motivated you to pick Chungliao as the place to film?
HS: It might have something to do with my background. My hometown village experienced a big earthquake seventy years ago, and I grew up hearing about those experiences from my mother and grandparents. When I went to Yonping Village (central Chungliao) for the first time right after the earthquake, it seemed like each collapsed building coincided with something—probably the things my mother and family had experienced, and the things I’d been told.
I felt a connection, and got totally absorbed in filming the collapsed buildings as they were being torn down. And then I noticed that there were high-voltage electricity towers everywhere. Mountains are razed for the convenience of cities, but the towns decay. Those circumstances matched my own hometown village.
While this was going on, I came into contact with young villagers and deeply sympathized with their ideas. Returning from the city, they were prompted by the earthquake to really want to try and somehow changed old character of the village. I’d grown up in the countryside and had seen similar circumstances, and could really understand what they were thinking.
Q: It turned into a six-hour monumental work, but why did you do such a careful portrayal, including the difficulties of the village’s recovery process?
HS: I felt that the problems in Chungliao had been caused by the Taiwanese people as a whole. There’s a cultural weakness in Taiwan of just looking at the surface of things, and there’s not enough rational analysis of the fundamental issues. Repeated landslides aren’t just surface phenomena, and have some kind of deeper roots, right? So, as a matter of course I studied the history and legal issues, and I also needed to trace things back to the triggering mechanism. I wanted to make a documentary with depth that captured the essence, particularly since I was making a film.
There’s a man who continues living in his house that collapsed in the earthquake, right? When it rains a lot, I get worried and call him. He says that he’s fine, but cars can’t reach him, and it’s obviously dangerous. So once I was worried about him and went on foot to film him. As I walked and slipped along the dangerous mountain road, I was tormented by feelings of powerlessness. I can’t stop landslides, and I can’t change the world . . . . I cried in a state of near panic, and resolved to film this situation and pursue it to the root causes, no matter what. Because that’s all I can do.
Q: I got the feeling that you grew more and more enthusiastic as the filming progressed, but what were your thoughts as you filmed?
HS: For me shooting the film was about confirming the significance of my life as I came into contact with a lot of different people, more than like I had a big sense of responsibility or mission. Another big thing was my anger about the collapse of Chungliao, where people were intimately connected, like with my own hometown. In actuality, I kept on driving myself to continue filming in the midst of fights over rights and ongoing inconclusive bureaucratic discussions. I was constantly in a state of confusion, and it was tough.
So, the movement to have everyone restore the irrigation channel was like sweet candy for me. Because even if the project failed, the spirit of the village would be revived the moment the young and old people and outsiders all joined forces and worked together. And lots of happy seeds are packed within.
(Compiled by Sato Hiroaki)
Interviewers: Sato Hiroaki, Kashiwazaki Mayumi / Interpreter: Yoshii Takashi
Photography: Wada Hiroshi / Video: Saito Kenta / 2005-10-12