Maybe the concept of wanting to remain in one’s native land only is a traditional Han Chinese concept, and maybe it is a territorial instinct universal to all mankind, or even all mammals. In other words, my home and my land offers the best hope of security and wealth. However, unexpected changes over time or in the environment can often create situations that push individuals towards strange lands or force them to leave their homeland. Increasing the focus to a microscopic level, I can find particular ethnic groups, communities, families or individuals who move from their homeland, yet long for their homeland. Apart from the strong emotional attachments that make a departure difficult, it is a somewhat comforting thought that I will be accepted by the world. Despite physical and mental exhaustion, the light of hope for a life still shines in that other place.
The eight international films related to the migration theme that have been selected for participation in the 2003 Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival tell the above story both directly and indirectly, with both warmth and penetrating sharpness. Watching these films, our minds will sometimes be at rest, sometimes boiling with emotion. As you become immersed in the story, you get to know its every person and object. After getting to know them and coming out to write about them, you will find that you yourself are crossing borders, gaining a completely new understanding of about migration.
There are two films from China, A Student Village and Ahlu and His Brothers. The former is a story about the Bai and the Lisu minorities, while the latter tells of the hard life of three Hani brothers and their family and clansmen. Both films make non-Han minorities their main theme, and show that individual or group mobility is a very common way to search for a better life in China’s distant areas.
Each summer and winter break, students at universities in central and western US leave their schools, emptying the university towns. Not until the holidays are over will the city streets once again be bustling with life. Much in the same way, the whole Tiandeng Village in the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture in China’s Yunnan Province becomes the biggest village in the area at the beginning of each new school term as elementary school students and their parents arrive from their distant homes to build and move into their dormitories. After the parents leave, the headmaster and the teachers become the village chiefs and the students become the villagers who study there. Teachers and students work as hard as they can, while also completing tasks important to all by taking care of the trivialities of every-day life, books, looking for water and food.
For a few years while still at school, students regularly move back and forth, until the day of their graduation. This village of the young becomes a tolerant and welcoming place connecting different mountain areas through friendship and highlighting the use of intelligent teaching and learning to reach the goal of actively uniting a nation that consists of a multitude of ethnic groups.
In contrast to the determination of A Student Village, Ahlu and His Brothers talks about the misery of life. Audiences will be upset over the inequalities as the crooks and cheats in hinterland China live off the hard work of the minority peoples. For a long time, this has left the main characters, who left home in search of a way to make a living, with no hope. We still don’t have the answer to the problem, but the moral courage that went into the making of this film is in the end able to make us fully understand the spiritual belonging of these Hani vagrants. When they manage to escape, they are afraid to return home. They cannot find jobs and everything looks bleak. Luckily, showing this film alerts the world to their misfortune. We all believe that help will be forthcoming, and when that day comes, the warmth of humanity will accept and tolerate hardship.
East and West
The festival organizers have chosen two films about the Japanese relationship with the West. These films put their finger on the core of the meeting between East and West in modern times. Green Tea and Cherry Ripe tells the story of a few Japanese women who married Australian soldiers during WWII and then followed them to Australia. Half a century later, some of these women still persist in speaking Japanese, while others are fluent in English; some constantly long for home, while others do their best to adapt; some are happily married, and others are alienated and isolated; some are introvert and worship Buddha, while others have an active social life; some are miserable dreaming of the past, others enjoy the present. Having experienced the changes in their own lives, they have opened the door to the challenge of cross cultural identification for the next generation.
Although Droppin’ Lyrics is concerned with the US, it could be seen as a continuation of the observations of the previous film. A hiphop group whose members are of Japanese descent draw on countryside, history studies, reflection and creativity to write songs giving a new meaning to war, human rights. acceptance, peace and patriotism. The film’s lead character frankly says that he uses his Japanese identity to demonstrate the new generation’s open-mindedness towards globalization in a world of interconnecting and simultaneously existing cultures where people move between different areas.
When compared to the Japanese migration experience, there are both similarities and dissimilarities in the experience of the Hmong people from northern Thailand (called Miao in China, a name the Hmong do not like) in the film From Opium To Chrysanthemums. For 30 years, from his youth to his old age, Lao Tong, the village chief, has led his people through violent internal and external attacks and big changes in their situation, such as the Lao-Vietnam war, the Thai extermination of communists, international anti-drug campaigns, deteriorating health, improved livelihood, a decreasing population, social prejudice, and the new era of peace. His persistence, bravery, rich affection and benevolence have brought peace to the villagers and makes family members emmigrated to the US remember him. The current peace has infused the villagers with a will to abandon drugs, and the meeting of East and West constantly reinforces the power of blessings across great distances. Whether Hmong or Japanese, these blessings enable their people and their children abroad to live on in the new world, and they make the self awareness and activities of the new generation (such as loud hiphop songs or the Hmong girl determined to serve in the White House) remain in our focus for a long time.
We all know the story about homeless drifting Kurds in Russia, Turkey and Iraq where resistance and escape become the normal way of life. The lead character in Silent Song is a refugee from Iraq to Edinburgh in Scotland. A singer, he sings a song named “Silent Song” following a spiritual exchange with his friends. He believes the song to be about eternal loneliness, and we therefore only see the singer singing a cappella, alone before an empty auditorium, without added pictures or colors. The silent song symbolizes the uncertainty surrounding the future of his own people. The completely unaccompanied and hoarse voice becomes a shrilling accusation. He has moved to the quiet of Scotland, where the cold winds carry an old luster that effectively reflects the refugee singer’s and songwriter’s powerless yet powerful life of resistance.
Vanishing, which tells the story of a small village in eastern Serbia, is a tragedy made on the initiative of the film’s producer. As a result of the urbanization and industrialization, the young have left the rural village and families have moved away, causing the population to fall sharply. There is only one little girl left in the school in this village in former Yugoslavia. Only some ten minutes long, the film shows fragments of the girl passing by the older generation and their ancient farming work. The village is full of old faces and old bodies. When she walks to the end of the village, the little girl suddenly sees a fashionable young woman. It is the teacher, the only young person in the whole film, apart from the young girl roaming the village streets.
Is there really no hope for the village? Maybe the hopes merely have changed. Just like with the Kurdish singer, it is not that there is no hope for the people, but rather the hope is that the village will come back to life in a distant future, when the people that have moved to the city in search of their hopes will start to gradually return following yet another fundamental change to the environment and to their minds. There will always be places where refugees are accepted, such is the tolerance of the world, and those are also the places where people prepare to begin a new life.
Jakub tells the story of the Ruthenians over the last 100 years, entangled in the difficult issue of identity in the nation states of Ukraine, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Germany and Russia. They have been subdued, ruled, assigned names, abandoned and moved, and their identity has long been kept deep in their hearts, hesitantly. Seeing the independence and strength of the Czech Republic, where they belong in their hearts, they hope to be able to get her back in future.
The Old and the New Home
The festival films bring us into the worlds of main characters from different places. Year after year, children keep moving into the village in A Student Village, where the new community becomes the “big world”, transcending the small society of the family. This “big world” verifies the students’ diligent quest for knowledge, as well as the students’ and their teachers’ incomparable tenacity in a life of poverty. For the tiny village population, the permanent move from home during the school term clearly carries a deep sense of character building. Alu and his brothers drift around. Leaving home in search of a living, they are cheated and hurt, and each place feels evil. They cannot return home, and a new home remains elusive. China should be ashamed of this situation, but luckily there are directors who will fight for justice. By their putting out good movies, the unlucky will finally turn lucky. Finding a safe new place to live, and with the future care and concerns of the international community, the Hani youth will certainly be able to distinguish themselves. Australia and the US have built a relationship with Japan. From having been enemies, they have become friends. Their relationship has been transformed from being a supervisory relationship into a husband-and-wife relationship, where they have grown to know each other. The past 50 years show that the Japanese wives have succeeded in building a positive understanding of Australians and of their local traditions. This is the reason why these women from a different place have been able to settle down and enjoy a long life. Based on this foundation, the longing for Japan becomes even more precious. The US has given the young hiphop musicians ample room for self-reflection. Free and leisurely exchanges between Japan and the US allow them to promote peace through their creative activities. The tolerance and achievements of their new home is praiseworthy. Hmong emigrants are the most confident. Not only are they working hard to move onto the political stage, the open-mindedness of the new world also gives their family and people back home full confidence that they will be able to abandon the drugs and begin anew. People in both the old and new homes cooperate to create a new era of peace.
The Kurd musician, the little Serbian village and the Ruthenian people are more tragic. They may find themselves in a very difficult situation, but the silent song is already heard across the globe. Both you and I know that everyone has heard it, and that the strong sympathy it has awoken can be used in future. The situation for the lonely, studious little girl in the Serbian village is special. The old school worker strikes the bell, the pretty teacher arrives on time and all the villagers do their best working the fields and raising their cattle. They all maintain their vitality and they are not afraid that their lives will fall apart. The city accepts great numbers of migrants, but may not do so forever. There are many examples of people who leave in the blink of an eye. “Vanishing” is a shocking title, but it is also carries the opposite sense of the exciting vitality of future hope. The discussion of state and ethnic identity is becoming more and more open, and with the world lending a helping hand, there is no reason why the Ruthenians’ home should not be happy and full of laughter.
A film will always have a main theme. The foreign films on the migration theme in this year’s Ethnographic Film Festival are both happy and sad, joyous and bitter, and they talk about history as well as the present day. There are many kinds of migration, but none that does not run counter to the wish to remain in one’s native land. In other words, anyone leaving their home will shed tears. It is not hard to understand the difficult emotions of someone not letting go of the present, and not knowing what will happen in future. However, in the end, leaving is a fact. Some of these people are stable (the students in Tiandeng Elementary School); some are without hope, but remain persistent (Alu and his wife); some think back and cry, but are also happy (the Japanese wives in Australia); some are full of confidence, pounding at the historic political chore (the Japanese descendents making hiphop music in the US); some are busy tying a blessed relationship between Asia and the US (the Hmong chief and his family and people); some pin their hopes on the calm of northwestern Europe (the Kurd singer of the silent song); some are only one single studious child (the little Serbian village); and some are searching collectively for an identity, never losing heart (the Ruthenian people).The main point of these stories is that when leaving, there will always be a place where you will be accepted, what I call “tolerated,” and that place will often become the new home. China has to work harder and offer more places for the suffering to settle down. If the new home is beautiful, there is also a greater chance that both the image of the old home and the actual old home will be as beautiful. This is the true meaning of the new era of peace. The whole world is working hard to create a humane and just new world.