An Interview with Tsai Yi-feng (Director)
How Survivors Continue to Live After the Disaster
Q: I was troubled to see the severe damage wrought by Typhoon Morakot. How did you come to film this Bunun village?
TW: There were three villages around the area of this landslide. At first I went to the one with few casualties and no deaths. Then I went to the place in the film, where half of the village itself was gone. I got to know the brothers who appear in the film, learned about their predicament, torn between going down the mountain and staying, and decided to film them. Since I had been reporting on the Taiwan indigenous peoples since around 2000, I was told that if I didn’t document this situation, no one else will. That pushed me to go ahead.
I believe that it is important to stay close to characters in making a documentary, so I lived with them as I filmed. Many news reporters go home after their work is done, but I thought I needed to accompany them where they were. I am continuing to film their lives now, though I can’t always be with them anymore.
Q: How did you feel when you first saw the damage?
TY: Taiwan is prone to typhoons, but it was the first time I saw mudslides of this scale. When I saw the damage, I couldn’t believe people would be able to live there again. Obviously on site, you feel the size of the disaster and the enormous force of nature. Through my filming I was hoping to deal with questions like: How can we continue living amid nature? How can we face and co-exist with nature?
Q: We see a scene in the film where the Tzu Chi Foundation and the government host a meeting to explain the Permanent Housing plan to the residents. What were you thinking at the time?
TY: I thought it was problematic to demand an immediate decision from people who had just lost their family and homes. Some people who were pressured to move with no time to think about it later regretted their choice. Some people say they migrated but want to someday go back to work on the land they were born. The government’s way of doing things was crude, neglecting to think about the residents and forcing them to make a choice.
Q: In the film, the older brother says, he will stay there so that his younger brother’s family will have a place if ever they wish to return. We see the younger brother farming in the town at the foot of the hills. Those scenes made me really hope that some day they would be able to live closer together.
TY: They are separated between mountain and plains now, but every season the younger brother takes some occasion to make the trip back and spends time working with his brother. The big brother has kept the house on top of the mountain intact so his brother can come home any time.
Q: The Bunun in the film talk about compiling a family tree so that the descendants of those who’d left the land would know about their history there. I was moved by their consideration for the families who’d moved out and felt a still-existing bond among the villagers.
TY: On Father’s Day this year, there was an event jointly hosted by Christian churches in the mountain and lowland, to give prayer on the tenth anniversary of the disaster. There had been exchanges in the past, but this was a special, moving experience that made us feel hope for the future of the bond, because those who had migrated came up the mountain and there was a genuine feeling of forgiveness towards each other.
(Compiled by Kusunose Kaori)
Interviewers: Kusunose Kaori, Ishizuka Shino / Interpreter: Nakayama Hiroki / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Masuya Shuichi / Video: Masuya Shuichi / 2019-10-11