Behind The Scenes of And Deliver Us from Evil: the documentary makers in Orchid Island (Lan-yu)
Full Shot Foundation
I’ll always remember the skipjack season, May, the serene Orchid Island, the unforgettable open-air Tribal Cinema, all in 1999.
As a documentary maker, aside from shooting, I have been working on one of Panorama Communications Foundation’s projects, which aims to help people who hope to learn documentary making. We have devoted a lot in to guiding people in how to record what’s going on in their lives with semi-professional, handy camcorders. Since 1998, we’ve visited Orchid Island at irregular intervals to give training to our friends of the Dau (Tao) tribe there. They’ve also taken trips to Taiwan to attend our documentary workshops. Despite the lack of money and equipment, our Dau friends have managed anyhow to record some images of their lives. In the skipjack season of 1999, they decided to tour with their work between the tribes on the island. Under the starry skies along with the sounds of the sea, they set up a large screen and showed the documentaries of their own selection for the tribal communities. They named this event “Tribal Cinema.”
In May 1999, I came to observe the touring of “Tribal Cinema” first hand. When the plane was slowly landing above the boundless Pacific Ocean, I saw the green Orchid Island lying among the grand blue—the Island of Humans. As I stepped out of the little plane, A-Mao, a close friend who’s running this event, was right there waving at the end of the runway. The blazing sun along with the sea wind struck me. I was extremely excited as if attending the world’s most interesting documentary exhibition.
In his borrowed shabby car, under the blinding sun, A-Mao was racing, with me along the island’s circuit road, gearing up for the evening’s showings. He is a civil servant at the weather watch station on the island. Besides keeping watch on the weather, he has also observed his friends’ lives with a camcorder. Thanks to him, Panorama had the opportunity to set foot on Orchid Island and see some developing interest in documentaries. A-Mao told me that the night before Shamanlanboan (a Dau writer) and Si-mawouyong (the writer’s close friend, a tour guide) showed Nan-Nook in the North at Red-head Village. And two nights before, Guei-ching, a diving coach, showed his own work “Documenting Skipjack-catching under the Sea” at Coconut-oil Village. Women there were surprised to see the spectacle of their men catching skipjacks in the sea. After the viewing, they went up to their men and said, “Oh, that’s how it really goes? Thanks for your hard work!”
“I’d love to be a person who runs the projector, always on the lookout for the island’s images, touring between tribes.” With hands on the steering wheel, A-Mao was trying to shun the goats on the road. “Every night when the showings are over, I’d be like this, driving all alone under the starlight, with the equipment at the back. The road ahead stretches far beyond into the darkness. I’d keep thinking about the smiles on their faces when the tribal people viewed the film, and about the discussion sparked by the film. I’d be lost in thought like that all the way back to the weather watch station.
Tribal Cinema has visited three spots on the island. The locals took up all the work, including translation, hosting, promotion or film selection at earlier stages. They all contributed a great deal. When Nanook of the North was showing, some young locals even observed the English captions, and dubbed the film in the Dau language through loudspeakers on location. The peal of merry laughter from both the elderly and the young really impressed me. On the day of my arrival, an Atayal documentary film Clothes of the Stonewall Tribe was showing at Lang Isle. For cultural exchange, the filmmaker brought along the old, a skilled weaver who was featured the film, from the mountainous Atayal District in Taichung County.
“During the Japanese Occupation, the colonial government deliberately blockaded the Orchid Island and set it aside as an important base for anthropological as well as sociological studies. It was not until then that cameras were first introduced to the island by ethnographers. Cameras functioned as a tool for doing researches. By such means the people and their lives were calculated and measured. After the Nationalist government’s takeover, the authority followed suit on the blockade policy. The Aboriginal Restriction wasn’t lifted until 1967, and as a result, numerous tourists and communications companies came with curiosity to the island. The exotic local customs and traditions, different from Taiwan, were then captured with cameras and on cassettes, When those recorded images re-appeared, they were showed on the three major TV channels at the time in a way that Orchid Island inhabitants couldn’t identity with.”
A-Mao wrote the above, as he realized that the Dau people have had negative experiences with documentary images. A-Mao decided to return to the island after receiving Panorama’s training in filmmaking in 1996. Once back, he has been busy himself with learning to dive, catch fish, grow taros and watermelons, and construct workshops. However, he made films at a snail’s pace, producing one at a time over a period of several years. Gradually, his local friends started to grow interested in his camcorder. These friends said, “Why don’t you teach us? My family is building a house soon. There’s a lot I want would like to film.”
A-Mao thought, “Maybe I’m not qualified to teach them how to make films. But, I can try to get my teachers to come to the island.” So, with the help of Lan-An Culture & Education Foundation, A-Mao managed to raise money for plane tickets from National Arts & Education Center. Thus Panorama employees began to come and teach in Lan-yu half-voluntarily. We had classes in a classroom on the seashore. In spite of preliminary planning, things always went beyond our expectations. With A-Mao and all the participants’ efforts, this amoeba-like documentary-making group inched forward at a typical Dau pace for three years. Sometimes we strained to chase our students up; other times students strove to catch up with us.
“If the act of recording images on Orchid Island has been regarded alien, intrusive and exploiting in the course of our history, how would we make a difference now in search of our own tribal images? What can we produce that really belongs to the tribes and would create new experiences with images different from the past? When the young people in the tribes pick up camcorders, how could they work with the machines to express their ideas and communicate with the outside world?”
While Guei-ching presented his documentation of skipjack catching, Mawouyong recorded his uncle working on ghost-head knives, and Hsiao-jen let her child work on ecology assignments with her camcorder, Si-Manirei’s images altered our perspective in a previously unimaginable way.
Si-Manirei, a young woman from Tung-ching Tribe, is a nurse at a medical clinic. In charge of the elderly’s homecare, she deals with chronic and seriously ill patients. She makes home-visits, as these patients are often too weak to make it to the clinic. This Western-style medical care seriously clashes with the locals’ medical conventions and traditional views of life and death. On Orchid Island, it is believed that the dead would turn into evil spirits and haunt the living with bad luck. Thus, according to tradition, when one is seriously ill or dying, his family is forbidden to provide him with any care. So, the elderly who are seriously ill or incapable of managing their basic needs could only confine themselves at dark corners in the house and face their grim state in helpless solitude. Even though the family suffers as well, they wouldn’t risk breaking the taboo. What Si-Manirie does is confront the clash on a daily basis.
Once, there was an old man who had had diarrhea for days and was filthy all over. Si-Manirei wanted to take him to the medical clinic for treatment. A blanket was needed to wrap him up before they set out to the clinic but no one in the neighborhood would give a hand. “What if he drops dead? Something very bad would follow.” Si-Manirei couldn’t help shedding tears when desperately looking for a blanket. At that moment she was pondering on how she could set up a voluntary homecare team by recruiting women through the church. But the question is: what approaches can she take to expose the elderly people’s miserable state to the tribal group?
Then the documentaries A-Mao once showed her came to mind. She figured that maybe “images” would help. With that in mind, she joined in the training. What motivated her to learn documentary filmmaking was for medical reasons. When she just started out, she viewed documentaries more as a tool: she recorded when a group of women made a house visit, and helped the elderly with bathing. Sometimes when Si-manirei demonstrated the nursing procedures, then it would be other women’s turn to shoot. An old man, who had previously waited quietly to wither away, would now want to learn to walk again. Si-manirei filmed the process in which he rose to his feet on a crutch, slowly learned to walk to the church and talked with people there. Due to the lack of medical resources– the ever-short supply of dressing, medicine, and oxygen cylinders, her documentaries were sometimes used as the medical clinic’s reports for the island’s fight to obtain financial aid.
Again and again, Si-manirei patiently explained to the tribal people why her team would want to make films like that, and why her team would organize the community to work for the cause. Slowly but effectively, people in the villages felt the urge to help her and thus forced themselves to confront from traditional taboos.
In the 1999 Skipjack Tribal Cinema, Si-manirei showed the tribal people her rough cut. That seemed to suffice if she only wanted the images to be a means to promote ideas. However, the story didn’t just end there. From then on, Si-manirei has been outspoken with her doubts in class. Also, she’s expressed a strong desire to go beyond the cause of the locals’ medical welfare and learn how to “tell a story.” She longs to convey her observations and doubts through images. To fulfill her ambitions, she has to further learn editing-cutting, and to use images as a language. Challenges have come one after another. More importantly, she needs partners to debate with her over the issues of cultural development. Therefore, that summer, our class waved goodbye to the training of basic filming techniques, and though not without difficulty, took a step further to editing-cutting and creativity-oriented discussions.
Today, Guei-ching, working hard to support his family, still stays focused on filming skipjack catching under the sea; Mawouyong has finished shooting his uncle who works on ghost-head knives, and continues a satisfying life of diving and fishing; Hsiao-ma filmed a piece about his homework; A-Mao has made Dishes of the Afternoon Meal and went on to shoot “Hsia-ban-a-na-an” building a workshop over a period of 4 years. The workshop is already done, but the film would definitely take longer to finish…
In the Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival during late September, And deliver us from Evil co-produced by Si-manirei and A-Mao is honored with an invitation for a showing. Of course this time Si-manirei is not offering the rough cut but her finished work, through which she wishes to tell the story to the audience in Taiwan and from other aboard. And I’m the one who’s carrying out the task of explaining, “Why would a nurse make such a film” and the whole process involved. In such a short article, a lot more is left unsaid. But I do hope this will provide some insight for the audience as a starting point for further discussion when viewing And deliver us from Evil.