An Interview with Yang Li-zhou (Director)
Living with the Elderly
Q: After I saw your film, I became determined to live each day preciously and do my best at whatever the moment requires. I felt it would be a dishonor to the cheerleaders if we young people didn’t take every minute of our lives seriously. How did you get to know them?
YL: I had made another film about the elderly before this one. It was about people with Alzheimer’s disease who live in a nursing home, and it was theatrically released. In Taiwan, it is not rare for documentaries to be released in cinemas, and my film received some acclaim. I came to want to make another film about the elderly, but something very different from dealing with Alzheimer’s. When a documentary is theatrically released in Taiwan, it often sparks a public debate. With the film about Alzheimer’s, I was afraid that an association between elderly people and disease would be reinforced. I was thinking about filming the aged who were healthy and active, when a friend in Gaohsiung told me about a group of interesting old people who dress up in short skirts and dance like American cheerleaders. I went to meet them. Maybe because Gaohsiung is a southern city with hot climate, the people there are passionate and friendly. During the course of filming over a year, my wife and I had a baby. According to Taiwan tradition, one month after a baby is born, a special feast is prepared for him. Normally you would just buy the ceremonial food, but for our child, the cheerleaders hand-cooked the meal. That’s how far our relationship became—beyond that between filmmaker and subject, they were like our grandparents.
Q: Who is the most memorable team member for you?
YL: Meizi. She was diagnosed with cancer during the filming and could not come to practice anymore. We tried to keep away so that she could concentrate on her treatment, but then she came to visit on her wheelchair on the day of the cheerleading performance to support her teammates. This left a strong impression on me. After Meizi’s words of encouragement, her friends surrounded her and hailed her courage to fight the disease. I realized that the elderly long for each other to encourage and cheer themselves up. They are supporting each other that way. And further, it came to mind that I am also cheering them on by filming them. If there is an audience to this film, then the viewers will also become their cheerleaders. This realization sparked a strong anger inside myself, because basically I saw how it is the elderly supporting each other. I don’t see the presence of young people in the picture. These elderly people worked hard and sustained the younger generation throughout Taiwan’s period of growth. Now they are old, and the young people are not providing for them. This was a frustrating thought.
Q: I felt that the group leader played an important role mentally as well as for the actual dancing of the cheerleading team.
YL: The leader is very important. I think of her as the sun, who stands in the center of the circle of old people who move around her. She is very kind and passionate. The elderly trust her as much as their children, who have confidence that with her their parents can live long healthy lives. She is the type of person who is not high-strung but can command what should be done in a quiet and calm way.
(Compiled by Onuma Ayaka)
Interviewers: Onuma Ayaka, Masuya Shoko / Interpreter: Akiyama Tamako / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Nihei Tomomi / Video: Keino Yutaro / 2011-10-07