Great East Japan Earthquake Recovery Support Screening Project “Cinema with Us”
An Interview with Wu Yii-feng (Director)
Documentary and Beyond
Q: Japan’s northeast region suffered tragically in the recent Great Tohoku Earthquake. Having experienced it firsthand, I myself found my values completely shifted after the disaster. Your film Gift of Life seems to be so much about Japan today, and what Japan will go through in the near future. What was the experience of the 1999 Taiwan earthquake for you?
WY: Our generation, born in Taiwan in 1960s to 70s, is lucky, as we never experienced war but benefited from the economic growth of the 80s. I began making documentaries from about two years after martial law was lifted in 1987. It was around a decade later in 1999 when the great earthquake hit. It was the first enormous hardship for us and something that forced us to think seriously about what we documentarists could do. The Fullshot team went to the afflicted sites immediately and made several documentaries over the course of five years. Mass media reporters did not stay long, and so Fullshot’s films were the only that covered the stricken areas for lengthy periods of time. When the films were released to the public in Taiwan, there was a strong wave of empathy from the audiences and they did very well in the box office. However, at the same time I came down with depression. By turning my camera on the earthquake victims, I had advertently undergone pain myself. Fullshot encountered financial problems and disbanded. Each of the Fullshot members went their own way. I recovered from depression after a long year and a half of medical treatment. Without being directly afflicted, those who stayed with them also were similarly scarred. My doctor advised me to “live more lightheartedly” so I started a children’s baseball team as coach, as I’d always loved baseball. I’m also involved in supporting the training of young documentary filmmakers.
I understand completely how your values could change after the earthquake. Anyone would, when faced with such a huge disaster. Various different and new ideas could be borne. That is a very important thing.
Q: You are keeping your distance from documentary filmmaking now, and preparing a fiction film. What nevertheless is documentary for you?
WY: Documentary is a record of myself. It is a document of not something outside, but inside me—my way of thinking and ideas of that time. The documentarist’s soul lies in how the filmmaker perceived reality and recorded it. Nowadays, anyone can voice opinions about society on the internet, but not at the time when we started Fullshot. Someone had to mediate and be spokesperson. Documentary has had a social role throughout the years, but its role used to be bigger in the past. I am now working on a fiction film project, which comes from my travel experiences around Taiwan and what I felt. Documentary cannot quite express what I perceived, and I hope to do it through the form of fiction. My documentary filmmaking has been a relevant build-up, to carry on to this current stage of communication through fiction.
(Compiled by Okuyama Shinichiro)
Interviewers: Okuyama Shinichiro, Sato Hiroaki / Interpreter: Higuchi Yuko / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Kimuro Shiho / Video: Endo Nao / 2011-10-09