YIDFF 2019 Cinema with Us 2019
Kanakanavu Await
An Interview with Mayaw Biho (Director)

Living with the Memory of Disaster

Q: What brought you to make a film about the indigenous Kanakanavu people? And what was your resolution as you embarked on the filming?

MB: My motivation was indeed the Eight-Eight Flood. The mountain areas were ravaged and as a documentary filmmaker I felt compelled to go see what the situation was like. The Kanakanavu are one of many tribes living in the mountainous region. In order to film the disaster there, I was determined to properly capture what’s there today and also to review the past. This is very important for the future.

Q: Natural disasters are a part of Japanese life, too. How do you think we should confront memories of such disasters?

MB: It’s great that Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival is running this Cinema with Us program and showing Japanese and Taiwanese films. It’s crucial that we remember what happened in the past and record it properly. In order to curtail the damage caused by the next disaster, we need to do anything we can in advance.

Q: You portrayed the Kanakanavu’s attachment to their land, and the gap between the younger and older generations in their perspectives.

MB: The typhoon is a natural disaster but the repercussions are man-made. The government demand that the people come down to live in the town below, but the elderly in this film believe that traditions should be upheld. Meanwhile, other people support the idea of migration. It’s the traditional ritual at the end of the film which brings the people together. The solidarity of the Kanakanavu is projected through this unifying ritual. However, I regret not to have been able to include what happened afterwards—the people were again broken apart after the government made a new proposal.

Q: There is a wonderful scene towards the end where the Kanakanavu talk about their connection to the river. It demonstrated the pride they have for their people and lifestyles.

MB: According to an ancient tradition of theirs, the dead should be purified in the river before burial. That way, they would be able to revive in a new form. When you are suffering, you should go to the river and purify yourself so that you can move on to a new start with new emotions. The clouds in the sky, the fog in the hills, and the water in the lake eventually all flow into the ocean. There is the allegory. Everything moves through a cycle.

Q: You seem to place importance in memory. What do you yourself think should be retained in memory?

MB: In the course of my documentary filmmaking about indigenous peoples and our ways of life, I used to be interested in arts and culture when I was younger. Festivals and living habits and such. As I grew older, my interest in recording history and politics started to grow. I knew this could get tricky. If I filmed political matters, it would probably go against someone’s politics and the films won’t be winning prizes. Currently, I am interested in education. Things like the Pangcah kindergardens. Also, I’ve been wanting to film the rain prayers of the Pangcah women for about 20 years now, but never found time to do it. On this trip (to Yamagata), I visited Zao and found it a delightful place. I hope to finish a new film and return to Yamagata again to show it.

(Compiled by Maezawa Ryu)

Interviewers: Maezawa Ryu, Tadera Saeko / Interpreter: Higuchi Yuko / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Morisaki Hana / Video: Abe Shizuka / 2019-10-13