Review: Building a New Era of World Peace

Hsieh, Shih-Chung

Prologue

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.

Non-Han China

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.

Eurasia

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.

Conclusion

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.

Review: Moving is the Start and End of the Story

Wang Song-Shan

There are numerous reasons for moving and migrating: for work; for marriage; for endless wars; or merely for wandering. Its form is not limited to one-directional or of a constant type. Man’s moving and migrating may be the drastic kind of never looking back; the coming home led by homesickness; or the back and forth due to indecisiveness. The beginnings and ends of life’s many stories are made possible by moving and migrating.

How much can man get when they go out to work? Can they return home sound and safe? In fact, it cannot be foreseen. Taiwan is the ideal working place for people living in Thailand’s poor areas. Till now, up to 150 thousand Thai laborers are here in Taiwan. Even if their dream of coming work in Taiwan can be fulfilled, often that’s not without costs. Daw-Ming Lee’s “Shattered Dreams” recorded the contention process the five job-cut Thai laborers joined with the unemployed, after an electronic factory in Tao Yuan shut down. Because foreign laborers have to pay large sums of brokerage fees to work in Taiwan, further with their unpaid salary and the monthly savings deducted, soon made the laborers into drastic living conditions. Whether or not that justice has been made is not the main issue of the film. Under Thailand’s not wealthy economical society, the three laborers sent back to Thailand still need to work, whether that place is in Japan, Switzerland, or Taiwan.

Intra-island migration in Taiwan, the building of a work and a family talk about different stories. The east coast origin Ameis come to this hopeful Taipei with the simple longing to have their own career and family. They started their new home “Huadong New Village” at the intersection of Hsichih Shin-tai Rt. 5 and N. 2nd highway, the grayish area between cities. No water or electricity is okay. But hoping for a better living is not easy. Wen-Chieh Tsao’s short film “Dreaming of Home-Marginal Tribe of the City” heavily presents as years pass, dreams of the Ameis in “Huadong New Village” are still afar, but again forced to move. Home is drawn out by the young painter; more of a fantasy than of something real. The Ameis on land far from their homes, fathers and sons, sing Taiwanese karaoke with no accents. Bicycles running, one youth saying” …cannot speak our dialect; cannot dance; either can I make those kind of sticky rice…, so our culture can’t be reserved. Anyways, it doesn’t matter!”

Ameis are not the only ones losing their culture and having identification difficulties caused by moving changes. Over a hundred years ago, ancestors of the Tachens followed yellow croakers from the coastal region of Zhejiang County to Tachen Island. Some forty years ago, because of war, tens and thousands of Tachens came to Taiwan and become anti-communist heroes, being called “the Tachen heroic fellows.” And some thirty years ago, in search of better living, some Tachens stole into the US and become chefs. Mayaw Biho’s long film “Coming and Going, Island of Tachen” talks about Tachens’ continual leaving home. When cross-straight tension lowered, a few Tachens went over the straight, upstream, on their journey back home. No more of the moral indignation back then, just some reminiscent pictures in mind. The land can still be told, but everything is different on the island, not even their ancestors’ graves could be found. Their past is fragmented. Tachens in threes places, although they still gather, play MJ, newly-weds still kowtow, the new cross-Atlantic Tachens will ultimately have different identity forms. Tachens endlessly moving to foreign lands are like newly-wed brides, into others’ place, starting their new journey.

Nai-Hui Huang, a cerebral palsy victim, an ambitious individual, a little well-known in Taiwan, married Navy, a Cambodian twenty years younger. Why marry Navy? And why “yes”? Tsung-Lung Tsai’s documentary “My Imported Wife” shows the unusualness of cross-national marriages, and the numerous latent dangers of weak bounding. All Navy wants is to help her family in Cambodia. But the eagerness to protect his own family, it is inevitable that Huang holds enmity toward his mother-in-law. The dramatic tension is structured on the two’ uncovered conflict worsened by the trip to Cambodia and the two-month trip the in-law took to Taiwan. Huang and Navy, a cerebral palsy victim and a foreigner, their arguments are smooth, strong and to the point. What was the no-line mother-in-law thinking, when Navy said in Chinese, “If I’m not poor, why would I marry you?” In this cross-national marriage, we see the earthly truth of many bindings. As for sexuality, age, culture, work, city and country, rich and poor, though not invincible, they are gaps not easily crossed, and the reasons of different types of conflicts.

Chao-Ti Ho’s “County Road 184” is Taiwan’s first music contention documentary about the music band’ recording process in the tobacco building in Meinung, Ping-Dong. The playing of Hakka music and traditional melodies warmly presents the band members living and working in their hometown; receiving awards at home and their cultural achievements in Prague, Belgium and Paris. At the mountain foot of Mienung, east of County Road 184, scenes of real life keep going on: usual like labor exchange for tobacco plantation; fierce like the dam issue, the cry of “leave good water, good mountain for our descendants; fight against the dams if you’re good men, good women;” wandering like the foreign wives learning new words, singing together in hakka “anxious sky, anxious earth, boundless is the Pacific Sea” or “time makes foreign grounds into home,” expressing their marrying-oversea-feeling. Coming home with rewards, the Labor Exchange Band goes along County Road 184, following traditional rituals, and come to worship the earth god. The unmoving Meinung is the index of the youths’ come and go. The flowing of cultural imagination along with the youths’ energy startles life’s new rhythm.

Unmoving land holds men’s endless needs. People come, then go. Like the unseen youth of Meinung, Rong-Shien Chen’s “Mountain Keepers-Song of Chung Giao Keng” start his story with an elder going to town to get letter; and describe the hakka elders spending their whole lives in this beautiful mountain village of centuries of migrating history. The youths already left for the cities. Chung Giao Keng is a deserted place. It used to have over a hundred families, but now left with only some twenty. With the passing away of the elders, the population is still on the decline. For those aging with this un-aging place, 70 is considered young; the sweet-potato 90-year-old mama isn’t old, she still can walk up the hills, nimbly bend and cut the grass, even feed some over a hundred chickens. Those looking after the mountain work diligently, live simply, continue on with seasons’ offerings, visit from door to door, and recollect the past.

The song of Chung Giao Keng, the elders sing about the inescapable tranquility. But they still have their imagination. Mi-Sen Wu, “Experimental Taiwanese” shows how the supposed calm life of foreign-county-origin Mr. Chu has been sparkled through the encountering with “Changjiang No. 1” in Taipei. His life becomes lively and homesickness has a new interpretation. Mr. Chu spent money learning Taiwanese to buy things in the market, and to sing the famous Taiwanese song “A Little Umbrella.” The incognito “Changjiang No. 1” is Chu’ sorcery to his passed life. The controversial “Changjiang No.1” plays an important part in Chu’ life and even is his hope of winning the lottery. Chu takes care of his long-time companion, doing husband’s duty. Inserted with the confusing role-changing, national identity, the life of Kanashima Yoshiko, those things related with espionage, seemingly true, seemingly false, the story is in fact talking about the nature of man’s moving and migrating.

Review: Entering the New Window of the 21st Century

Lee Chi-Ning

I.
Besides using “migration stories” as its theme, “the 2nd Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival” also chose thirteen joining films into this “New Window” section. Although these 13 films have different topics, show different styles, consist of different regional cultures, from Taiwan, China, Canada, Indonesia, Ethiopia, to Australia, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands, in whole, it can be considered a collection of international ethnographic films for the past two thousand years; a world view after entering the 21st century. Many issues or problems roused during the later half of the 20th century, like e-media, race identity, homosexuality, the millennium, and even the 921 earthquake in Taiwan, etc., have been directly or indirectly touched in these films. Also through the lively and unique presentations of these events in the films earned these issues more attention.

II.
To Taiwan, the 921 earthquake in 1999 can be thought of as the century end’s most shocking event. It’s not only a devastating disaster, but the reconstruction afterwards is also an enduring test to Taiwan’s society and mind. Ching-Hui Lee’s Forward Forest Dream is about the rebuilding of a campus after the 921 earthquake. Nei-Hu Elementary School, in Lu-Gu Town, Nan-Tou, faces the dilemma of not being able to reconstruct the campus at its original location after the earthquake. All school faculty, the students and enthusiastic parents hopefully planned to move the school into the forest, make it into an eco-elementary school. But in reality, their “forest dream” has been continually let down due to the inaccessibility of the experimental forest land belonging to National Taiwan University (NTU). Here on one side is NTU, having boundless academic and social resources, objecting the idea of moving the school into its planned spot due to forestation reason; on the other, a little mountain village, with no more than a hundred faculty and students fervently wishing to rebuild their school. Is academic and forestation more important? Or is it the enthusiasm after one’s dream? This deep, sincere film not only records the process of the school’s rebuilding, but also leaves a thoughtful introspection for Taiwan’s society after the earthquake’s reconstruction.

Nei-Hu Elementary School, in Nan-Tou, Taiwan, finally has its “forest dream” fulfilled after several hardships. Holding the same educational enthusiasm and idealism, top composer Tien-Fong, from China’ Central Band, Beijing, started Yunnan Ethno-Culture Minority Institute in Yunnan in 1993 through self-raised funds. But after seven years, the institute had to shut down due to shortage of funds. With the following losing of the lawsuit, Tien-Fong died of lung cancer in June, 2001. Xiao-Jing Liu’ Chronicle of the Minority Institute historiographically records the tragedy of Tien-Fong and his institute. “Seeing the rising of building, and seeing it falling,” as we follow the camera along with Tien into the fields finding ethno artists, chatting with local cultural officials who are after economic development, we are dazzled by the sudden music played by the Hanis and the Biens; stirred by Tien’s persistence and his dream. Later when reality heavily forces on, don’t we also feel the sorrow?

III.
How many Yunnan’ minority ethno music have been lost due to the falling of the Institute? Ethno and music has also been the theme of two other films from Taiwan: Chien-Hsiang Lin’ Dawu Melody and Han-Sheng Chang and Ke-Shang Shen’ Silent Cello. For the Dawus living generation after generation on Lanyu Island, life is often with singing and songs. But in Dawus’ language, there is no word as “music.” Dawus’ “music” is “simply using sound as a media to express the every side of life, not seeking the union between sound and the event of pleasing the ears.” Through the film, Lin uses Dawus’ “music idea” to challenge the music boundaries set by traditional concepts.

The boundary seen in Chien-Hsiang Lee’ Dawu Melody vanished in Chang and Shen’ Silent Cello. The film records the “musical encounter” between David Darling, a cellist of classical musical training, and the Bunun of Luwu Tribe in Taitung. The musician with child’s simplicity and the humble villagers use music to start the interaction and conversation crossing the boundaries of language and culture. Lastly, through this cross-cultural communication, made possible by music as the agent, inspires us that the true key to cultural communication and music conversation is not music or culture itself, but is the attitude of whether or not the parties want to accept and listen to one another.

The cellist in Silent Cello took a long journey into the mountains in Taitung looking for conversation; and for the two near 40 Bunun in Wuhalition: Tears of the Moon, they go into the mountains after the mythical rock that holds the “moon tear.” The long time myth of the Bunun: “Long, long time ago, there used to be two suns. There was this father and son who couldn’t stand the heat and went a long way to shoot the suns down. It took them dozens of years before getting one down. The one shot down become the moon and fell into the valley. It molded rocks to hold its tears. And the tears have been kept and will not dry out.” Anu Takilulun from Dongpu have been hearing this story from his father since childhood. After Anu’s father passed away, he noticed that no one else know the location of the tears. In worry of the lack of energy when aged, he decided to search for the moon’ tears following his father’s descriptions… A simple motivation, with simple plot, structures the touching, symbolic-filled identity-searching modern fable.

IV.
At the end of December, 1999, when the world is infatuated with the coming of the millennium, anthropologist Eytan Kapon brought his camera back to Yachaju Village in New Guinea where he’d done field work. To most villagers that already become Christians, the millennium means the coming of the ultimate “moment of the truth.” Will the diseased ancestors and Jesus Christ really come back into lives as prophesied? And the long unseen anthropologist just brings more turbulence into the already stirred village. How, in actual, do the villagers, wandering among tradition and modernity, Christianity and traditional faith, face this cross-century belief crisis? Letter to the Dead calmly but roundly presents this meaningful ethno issue.

The traditional versus modern belief crisis caused by the millennium and the anthropologist in Letter to the Dead has been shown in a different form in Martime Journet and Gerard Nougarol’ Indo Pino: Indo Pino is sick. As the highly respected witch doctor, she is the Wanas mythological doctor. Wana is a tribe of merely 1,600 people, located at the far deserted east coast of the Sulawei Islands in Indonesia. But now this magical doctor is sick, to the point that she can’t get off bed. To all the other witch doctors from afar and to Indo Pino herself, her disease is caused because being hooked by Pue Bulanga’, the god in the world, hook. So a recuperation ritual is necessary. But to this visiting anthropologist, seeing the long-reported sickness, he also faced a painful moral decision: whether to offer his at hand medicine, but breaking the villagers’ belief in traditional medical practice and the great doctor; or leave alone and let the doctor suffer? In the far away mountains, a sickness accidentally triggers the belief crisis in the choice between life and dignity, and between western and traditional medicine.
From belief crisis to racial conflict, the Mi’gmaqs lived generation after generation at Canada’s Miramichi Bay. They are known for their superb fishing techniques and delicate birch bark canoes. Starting from the 17th century, the Mi’gmaqs have frequent contacts with the European immigrants. Many of them become Catholics, but still earn their living mainly by fishing and catching lobsters. But as the development of commercial fishing in the bay area, fiercer competition occurs between the Mi’gmaqs and local fishermen. Finally, in 1993, because a Mi’gmaq was sentenced due to illegal fishing, continual conflicts followed. Although in 1999, the Supreme Court reached a resolution admitting the Mi’gmaq’s fishing right in the area; it also caused the revolt of the other local fishermen, who took fiercer means. And the conflict stretched from the court to violence. The Mi’gnaqs’ livings and lives are threatened; the community is also splitting. Is the Crown at War with Us? honestly records this racial conflict course, and also looking into the historic source of the hundred-year crash.

V.
Homosexual marriages are not unusual, but adopting kids afterwards is. One day, Kelly and Williams, a homosexual couple living in San Francisco, idiosyncratic to the general public, made a “traditional” decision: adopt a kid and become dad. But this isn’t a small issue; it’s much easier said than done. Not to mention other things, how can the kid accept the fact that he has two “fathers” but no “mother?” And more, can the law and the society accept a family like this? In fact, things are much more complicated than they thought. What if one day the couple separated? What to do when “grandma” holds her homosexual son’ “son” knowing not to be happy or to be sad? And also if being adopted is a kid of different race, not only do they face “sexuality” but also “racial” problems. Being afraid that their kid will be discriminated when together with normal families; but taking the kid to homosexuals’ gathering will leave him with no kid’s playing facility, because homosexual group never thought of the possibility of children’ presence. Obviously, this homosexual “parenting manual” is more complicated and twisting than the usual. Daddy and Papa humorously, warmly talks about this “homosexual parenting issue,” alongside make people ponder the flexibility and limitation of the family: man’s oldest structural system.

It is true that we all have our cross to bear. Daddy and Papa talks about the sweet and bitter of homosexual family. And Duka’s Dilemma talks about the Hamar family crisis in Ethiopia, Africa. Duka is the mother of five children. She felt down right after her husband married another young, beautiful wife. Although in Hamar’ tradition, polygyny is allowed, in fact men seldom practice that. Duka’s husband’ remarrying left Duka questioning: Is she old and ugly now? Or is it because of her chronicle sickness? At the meantime, the 2nd wife is definitely becoming a prick to her eye. Who knows what she’s always plotting on her mind? And lately her mother-in-law is also finding faults on her, feeling uncomfortable about the fact that her son married a 2nd woman without her consent… The uneasiness in the family finally openly burst out when the 2nd wife gave birth to a kid. Through the directors’ long-time field experience, the film delicately and vividly outdraws this family crisis in Africa.

VI.
Does death mean the end of power? To the paramount chief, Alfred Melotu, of Reef Islands in the Solomon Islands, it is not so. As a typical Big Man in Melanesia, Alfred Melotu had prestige when he lived, he called and people followed. Will the lands, fortune, fame, status he earned vanish and be forgotten along with his death? Alfred Melotu: the Funeral of a Paramount Chief documents the life and the grandeur funeral process of this prestigious Melanesian paramount chief. Then, along the film’s zooming, we slowly realized that the film itself is also the chief’s prearrangement. Although he left and the fine funeral had ended, the chief in the film still wears his uniform, inspects his lands, shows off his badges and fortune. When everybody gathered in the house after the funeral, watching this film, they realized: the paramount chief is still with us!

The Melanesian paramount chief in Alfred Melotu: the Funeral of a Paramount Chief uses modern media to earn eternity; Oh What a Blow that Phantom gave me! further reflects on the relationship between modern media and tribal society. Modern media (recorders, radios, TVs, movies, even the Internet) vastly invading into tribal society has a history no longer than a hundred years. But the impact on world tribal culture is unprecedented: widespread and gigantic. The film is an academic autobiography of anthropologist Edmund Carpenter. In the earlier time in anthropology field, Carpenter is considered idiosyncratic, a very modern anthropologist. Back in the 50s and 60s, he already started to probe into the impact modern media has on tribal society: “The media will conquer all tribal culture in a magnitude we cannot control.” To discover the media’s influence, he boldly made the so-called “upfront” experiments in the fields of New Guinea, like handing the recorder to the villagers who never seen the machine before. The result was not necessarily of the “aborigine’ view,” but the other way around, the media, through powerful means, “galloped” the tribal culture: making the exclusive ritual music into accessible canned music; turning tribal culture into viewable, awing “spectacle.” Carpenter’ “upfront” concept and doings was once rejected by the anthropology field, but today, with the media’ permeability, he seems to be the harbinger, worthy of our contemplation.

Carpenter’ reflection on e-media and the tribes in the 60s can be seen from a different perspective in Media Nomads. The Thaiday Brothers are aborigines born on Palm Island, Australia. Like most other aborigines in Australia, their early days were hard; they watched the upper generations being oppressed; wandered in the cities, addicted to drinking when young; finally found their missions: traveling within Australia promoting aboriginal radio stations, letting the aboriginal voices heard everywhere through the media. In the past, media had unprecedented changed the tribal culture, but today, we finally see the tribal people learning to manifest this power, that once totally changed their tradition, and turning it into the force to change the world.

Review: Migrating with Ethnographic Films

Hu Tai-li

(President, TIEFF)

Taiwan, in the bosom of the Pacific Ocean, has not rested peacefully in recent years. After the shock of the great earthquake on September 21, 1999, then Typhoon Nari brought the worst flood disaster in Taipei City in two centuries in mid-September 2001. The First Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival, prepared in a state of great apprehension, opened on September 21, 2001, just as the flood receded, with the MRT still not operating properly and many streets still in chaos. The original venue (the Center for Academic Activities at Academia Sinica) and the film festival office in the Institute of Ethnology were turned into disaster areas without water or electricity. Workers rushed to move the office to National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei. Fortunately, the Majestic Theatre agreed to screen the films, and the festival was quickly moved there. 12 foreign guests arrived on time and big audiences filled the theatre to attend a film festival born under catastrophic conditions. Upon returning home, Rolf Husmann, chairman of Commission on Visual Anthropology (IUAES), and director Jill Daniels wrote an article that was published in the April 2002 issue of Anthropology Today. They used a particular title: “Of Nightmares, Odysseys and Miracles: A Review of the First “Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival.” The article told the story of how the 2001 Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival, of which “Island Odyssey” was the main theme, set sail during a nightmarish typhoon.

Stability is a dream, while turbulent Taiwan gives birth to a variety of migration stories. Wave after wave of migrants flow in and then leaves again. Different cultures meet, with some getting lost in the turbulence while other take root and remain. With “Migration” the main theme of the 2003 Second Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival, stories of migration within and outside the island of Taiwan highlight each other with the help of images, letting us learn more about how to respond to changes and growth. We have long wanted the five films selected for the “Retrospective” section, and had to exert a great deal of effort to ensure their participation. Jean Rouch is the most famous director of ethnographic documentaries, and he also developed the cinema verite documentary. The biennial Taiwan International Documentary Festival has previously shown Chronicle of a Summer (1960), set in Paris and made by Rouch and Edgar Morin. However, Rouch’s African films, which are more characteristic of the ethnographic documentary and carry more of his individual style, have never been shown in Taiwan. The three films Moi, Un Noir (Me, a Black), Jaguar and Les Maitres Fous (The Crazy Masters) are classic documentaries representative of Rouch’s work. They are all concerned with the issue of migration from countryside to city in Africa. The imagery, hovering between the imaginary and a dream world, demonstrates Rouch’s surrealistic documentary style. The most fundamental motive behind migration is the quest for an existence. In addition to the migration resulting from urban development, the seasonal migration of nomadic peoples following the availability of pastures and water is movingly shown in the film Grass — A Nation’s Battle for Life. The images of 50,000 people bringing 500,000 head of cattle across great rivers and climbing high mountains make this film from 1925 a classic in the “adventure” documentary genre. The film The Oroqen, made 1960 in the Great Xing’an Mountains by the Chinese documentary filmmaker Yang Guanghai of the Bai minority, recreates culture and customs of a people that throughout the four seasons constantly move their tents in the pursuit of prey as they rely on hunting for a living. When the film was made, the Oroqen had already been settled for ten years on the advise of the Chinese communist party, but they were still unwilling to give up their nomadic hunting life. In making the film, Yang wanted to adhere to “scientific” requirements, but, to show the poetic and idyllic lifestyle of nomadic hunting peoples, he was also meticulous in his choice of scenery.

From the more than 200 films sent to us from around the world, and from almost 100 Taiwanese films, we have selected eight films for the “Migration Story-International” section, seven for the “Migration Story-Taiwan” section, and 13 for the “New Vision” section. The migration stories from Taiwan show the migration experience of the island’s different ethnic groups. Wu Mi-sen’s Experimental Taiwanese and Mayaw Biho’s Coming and Going, Island of Tachen both document the mainlanders who migrated to Taiwan during the Chinese civil war. The former adopts a surrealist style, rarely seen in Taiwan in the past, and tells the story of two old men in Taipei building their illusions and dreams. The latter focuses on people from Dachen island in China’s Zhejiang province, who move between Taiwan, the US and Dachen Island without being able to clear out cultural and nationality conflicts. Tsao Wen-chieh’s Dreaming of Home – Marginal Tribe of the City tells the story of an urban Amis migrant community, where adults and children, adrift in reality, build their dream of a family offering shelter. Chen Rong-shien’s Mountain Keepers – Song of Chung Giao Keng and Ho Chao-ti’s County Road 184 documents migration stories among Taiwan’s Hakka people. Mountain Keepers gives a forceful and penetrating portrait of the grace and solitude of the northern Hakka mountain areas. As the young move away, the old people remain, talking their mother language and singing mountain songs in the sun and the mist. The Hakka youth in County Road 184 follow the road from the city back to Meinung Township. The music they create is a forceful attack on the travelers’ minds as it spreads overseas from Taiwan. Lee Daw-ming’s Shattered Dreams reflects the situation of foreign workers in Taiwan, and also takes us to their home land. Tsai Tsung-lung’s My Imported Wife uses the family drama to show a Cambodian wife and how she fearlessly faces her husband and the media, loudly defending herself. Scenes of quarrels making you roar with laughter pointedly burst Taiwanese hypocrisy.

Leaving Taiwan, we also see the migration between countryside and city in other areas. Alu and His Brothers by Zhou Yuejun from Yunnan Province uses a very intimate camera when following the young of the Hani people as they leave the beautiful terraced fields that are unable to feed them, only to move on to other areas and taste the hardships involved in building a life. Vladimir Perovic’s Vanishing is a beautiful but tragic elegy to a village abandoned due to urban migration. Green Tea and Cherry Ripe by Solrun Hoaas documents the lives of Japanese women who followed their Australian husbands home at the end of the Second World War. They have grown old with time, but time can still not wash away the Japanese arts of tea and flower arrangement. Atsushi “Ucci” Uchino’s Droppin’ Lyrics tells the story of young Japanese descendants in the US expressing their feelings about the war and two former enemies – their mother country and the country they have migrated to – through hip hop music. The sincerity of the rapid, smattering lyrics and rhythms is a moving force. Pea Holmquist’s From Opium to Chrysanthemums and Silent Song by Aine O’Brien and Alan Grossman tell stories of international migration. A complicated political and economic situation has turned the area along the Thai, Burmese and Lao borders — the Golden Triangle — into a hot bed for migration. Many Kurds are tragically spread across the world because they cannot find land to live on and because they are politically persecuted. The only way to highlight this situation is to distribute Silent Song through international media. The village in Wei Xing’s A Student Village, built by parents looking to educate their children, is the most special village in this section of the festival. It is moving to see students cook and prepare their livelihood. The film most unique in style is Jakub by Jana Sevickova. The poetic and riddling images reveal the constantly changing national status and historic changes of the Ruthenian people.

The “New Vision” section shows outstanding ethnographic films outside of the migration theme that have been completed over the last two years. Duka’s Dilemma by Jean Lydall and Kaira Strecker, Indo Pino by Martine Journet and Gerard Nougarol, Letter To The Dead by Eytan Kapon, Alfred Melotu: the Funeral of a Paramount Chief by Peter Crawford, Rolf Scott, and Trygve Tollefsen, Oh What A Blow That Phantom Gave Me! by John Bishop and Harald Prins all project the long-term field work of ethnographic scholars and the mutual focus and interaction between the researchers/filmmakers and the people being studied/filmed. Duka’s Dilemma presents a very sympathetic image of a polygamous African society. In an unforgettable way, it follows Duka as she goes from doubt to acceptance of her husband’s new wife and help her through childbirth and breastfeeding her baby. Indo Pino documents how the female shaman of the Indonesian Wana people cures herself when she turns ill, and her commentaries on the effect of the Western medicine given to her by the filmmakers. The filmmakers’ deep understanding and appropriate display of ethnographic materials are key to this film. With truth and humor, Letter to the Dead describes anxiety and expectations on the eve of the Millennium in an indigenous society in Papua New Guinea converted to Christianity. Alfred Melotu: the Funeral of a Paramount Chief and Oh What A Blow That Phantom Gave Me! both deal with the relationship between the society being filmed and the film camera. The former, with the approval of the chief and under his “direction,” becomes a testimony to the chief’s family history and power. The latter presents experiments made by the anthropologist Edmund Carpenter, who brought a film camera with him to indigenous societies in order to explore the effect of visual media on these societies. The New Vision section also includes a few films dealing closely with indigenous cultures. Is the Crown at War with Us? by the famous Canadian aboriginal director Alanis Obomsawin discusses fishing rights of Canadian indigenous peoples under past protective treaties and current legislation. Wuhaliton: Tears of the Moon by the female director Salon Ishahavut of the Bunun people in Taiwan uses animation and a person’s search for his roots as vehicles for telling the Bunun moon legend. Dawu Melody by Lin Chien-hsiang mixes unique chanting with images that seem like the light reflecting off waves to show the experiences accumulated during his many years of participating in the Dawu culture on Lanyu Island. Silent Cello, jointly directed by Chang Han and Shen Ke-Shang, lays a bridge between the Bunun people’s beautiful songs and the cello of a famous Western musician. Chronicle of the Minority Institute by Liu Xiaojin from China documents the efforts a Han musician in love with the rituals, music and dancing of the minorities in Yunnan Province has put into the operations of the Minority Institute. Media Nomads by Donna Ives tells the story of two Australian aboriginal brothers and their efforts to set up a local radio station for indigenous peoples. The New Vision section also includes a very warm and moving film, Daddy & Papa, by Jonny Symons. It describes the joys and sorrows of male same-sex families in California that have adopted Asian and African children. Finally, Forward Forest Dream by Lee Ching-hui brings us back to the great earthquake in Central Taiwan of September 21, 1999. Having survived the destructive disaster, elementary school teachers and students in Nantou walking among the ruins of the old school and dormitories now dream of being able to build an elementary school in the neighboring experimental forest area, managed by National Taiwan University, although difficulties abound. After the film had been selected for inclusion in the festival, the director said there had been further developments regarding the construction of a new school, and that she would change the ending of the film. The story is not yet over, but the film festival is about to begin. As the light hits the silver screen, we will migrate with the images and build a home for our dreams.

Review: The Oroqen

The making of “The Oroqen”

Cai Jiaqi

In the 1950s, Chinese society experienced a series of socialist movements. During this period of great social transformation, the Chinese leadership initiated a survey of the social history of minority peoples throughout China. The aim was to document traditional and contemporary social attitudes of each minority taking a materialist view of the history of social development, and to use the results as a point of reference for scientific research and when formulating policies for the minority peoples. In 1957, this large-scale field survey for the first time used film as a documentary method. This opened up a long road of exploration of visual anthropology in China. This is the background behind the making of “The Oroqen.”

Due to the high cognitive and research value, a large part of the first set of ethnographic films made in China in the 1950s and 1960s reflected the parts of traditional society that at that time already had disappeared or been discarded. Ethnologists and documentary film makers cooperated using “restorative” or “reconstructive” methods in their filmmaking. The Oroqen is one of the better among these films. I believe this to be directly related to the fact that the group’s researchers gathered a fair amount of data during their seven consecutive years of studying the Oroqen (1956-1963).

The director of the The Oroqen, Mr. Yang Guanghai, (of the Bai people in Dali, Yunnan Province) has worked at the Beijing Scientific and Educational Film Studio. This was his fourth film after he began making ethnological documentaries in 1957. In the summer of 1962, he and the rest of the research team wrote the script together, on location in the Oroqen Autonomous Banner. In other words, they went to the area where the hunters lived to observe and experience their way of life before creating the storyboard and the first draft of the narrative. They then proceeded to consider every aspect of the film and to make concrete arrangements. Early the following year, Guanghai led the film team to the area to start filming. The entire film is concerned with the Oroqens’ hunting activities through each of the four seasons. The filming began during winter in the banner’s Chaoyang area. In May and June, the team moved on to Simuke for filming during spring and summer. In early July, the camera crew was divided into two teams. Guanghai and his team returned to Chaoyang to shoot complementary scenes, while I travelled up the Heilongjiang River to Hunting Village No. 18 in Huma County (today’s Hema County) together with the photographer Yang Junxiong (of the Miao people, from Hunan province). Once there, we filmed the making of birch-bark boats and other summer activities. We finished filming in the field and returned to Beijing by the end of that month.

In those days, filming equipment wasn’t very advanced. We had two film cameras, one Soviet-made and one West German Arriflex II C. The film was black and white Agfa 35 mm, from the Soviet Union and from East Germany. We used tripods and metal tracks for the pan shots. Due to a lack of ligthing equipment, one side of the tent had to be lifted when filming in the cot (a tent made of wooden poles and covered with animal hides or tree bark), and that side would also help reflect further light. Nor did we have any sound synchronization equipment, but only a sound technician and a music editor. Using foreign portable tape recorders, they recorded some Oroqen songs, tribal meetings and shaman dances, which were then edited into the film. All other sound effects were added during post production.

Although some changes became necessary while filming in the field, filming basically adhered to the storyboard. This guaranteed that the script was logically consistent, and that film wasn’t wasted due to impulsive shots. Of all the suggestions during the editing process, the director’s carried the most weight. During the post production editing process, an average of one scene out of every three shots was selected, giving a shooting ratio of 3:1.

In 1963, there were only about 2,400 Oroqen left. In the mid-17th century, they gradually moved, following their prey to the Greater and Lesser Xing’an Mountains in Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang. There they dispersed further along the rivers according to tribal or ethinc organization. During the first half of the last century, they still remained in the final stages of primitive society, the hunting commune, or what the Oroqen call the “wulileng.” The Oroqen language is an Altaic, or Manchu-Tungusic, language. They practice shamanism, and worship nature, ancestors and a multitude of totem spirits. Social life and culture are heavily characterized by the life of a hunting people.

The greatest change we discovered in the early 1960s was that the Oroqen’s tribal and ethnic organization had disintegrated, and that knowledge of this organization only remained among a few of the older people. The past nomadic paternal family had already given way to a land based society, and, in particular, hunters had stopped their roaming ten years earlier. Everyone had settled down and many hunting villages and roads had been built in the Xing’an Mountain forests. We did see, however, that the hunters in some of the villages were not too used to living in the government-built rows of connected, wooden houses. Many of them missed living in their cot during hunting and often built one in front of their house. We also discovered that no fundamental changes had taken place in the way they hunted or in most of their clothing and utensils. This provided a good foundation for restorative filming.

In early March that year, I went to the capital of the Autonomous Banner, Alihe, after having received an assignment to participate in the making of the film. I was to assist in its production as a representative of the Institute of Ethnology in the Philosophy and Social Sciences Department at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and to collect the hunters’ utensils and send them to Beijing using the expense money given to me by the institute. In addition, I also had to find the time for further surveys on behalf of the institute.

Restorative filming in The Oroqen focused mainly on traditional hunting activities. The hunting of leopard, black bear and squirrel during the winter season documented in the film was shot following the hunters into their actual hunting grounds in the mountains. I had many discussions with Guanghai regarding the fact that the Oroqen spent most of their time hunting red deer. They had accumulated very particular ways and experience of hunting deer due to its high economic value. I believed that it would be a big shortcoming if the film did not contain any actual deer hunting. But there are many difficulties attached to filming the hunting of deer. Red deer are very alert, and will run away at the slightest noise or movement. We didn’t have any telephoto or zoom lenses, but only a standard lens, which made this kind of shooting very difficult. We thought of buying a red deer from the local deer farm for the filming, but couldn’t pay the high price and had to abandon that idea. In the end, we made up for this by filming deer inside the deer farm, avoiding fencing and other structures. We then added images of the hunters shooting as part of the editing process.

There is a lot of restorative filming in the film — bows and arrows, spears, and skis are all old utensils. The manufacturing of birch-bark and leather utensils and the processing of metal utensils; gathering, fishing, and moving the wulileng in summer and autumn; weddings and funerals; the exchange of objects with other tribes within the “Anda” system; settling down and farming in Heilongjiang Province; ethnic group meetings and shaman dances — all these scenes were the results of restorative filming for which necessary arrangements had to be made. Each time we were to shoot a new scene, we had to first explain it several times to the participants and listen to their suggestions, in particular to the suggestions of the older participants, while also stressing that they should follow their normal behaviour. We felt that as long as we managed to clearly explain the main theme of a scene, and as long as they accepted it, we should let the hunters behave the way they wanted, without our interfering or making any specific demands.

The hunters and grassroots level cadres who participated in the making of “The Oroqen” fully understood the significance and value of making it — making and keeping a documented record of the Oroqens’ hunting life to show the younger generations the hardships endured by the older generations. We were moved by the way they constantly provided enthusiastic and competent support and made the shooting progress smoothly. I understand that the film has been shown locally several times to enthusiastic audiences, with the hunters so excited at seeing their own lives and images that they didn’t want to leave, but requested that the film be played over and over again. When I returned to the area in the 1980s, local Oroqen cadres called the film their “ancestral film.” 40 years on, all the old people in the film and some of the young have already left this world. I remember them, and to this day often see their shadows moving before my eyes.

(With the permission of Mr. Cai Jiaqi, this extract has been taken from his unpublished work, “Restorative and Reconstructive Documentaries — Memories of the Making of The Oroqen “

Review: Tracing Silhouettes: Three Movies by Jean Rouch

Lin Wen-Ling

French director Jean Rouch is among the directors to be presented at this year’s Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival. A prominent director of documentary films, Jean Rouch is also renowned worldwide as the founder of the Comite du Film Ethnographique at the Musee de l’Homme and the reality cinema (cinema verite) film genre that he developed in the 1950s remains influential today. In keeping with this year’s theme “Migration Story” Jean Rouch’s well-known and brilliant series of the 50s and 60s will be shown at this exhibition. Interestingly, some of the films were not edited and completed until 10 years after they were shot. Three of his works, The Crazy Masters (Les Maitres Fous, 1953-1954), Jaguar (1954-1967), and Me, A Black (Moi, Un Noir, 1959), will be shown at this year’s festival.

In these films, Jean Rouch probes historical factors of colonial Western Africa, such as the rise of port cities, economies, and employment situations, which brought about the movement of large populations. These films have three common themes: journey, the city, and modern life. The term “journey,” however, entails a different meaning and “city” manifests another dimension of life. These films all employ ritual and are divided into three sections each.

The Crazy Masters: A Journey of the Transformation of the Mind 
Opening up in downtown Accra, Ghana’s capital city, the film unceremoniously plops the audience into the middle of the bustling city, referred to by Rouch in his narration as “the true black Babylon,” packed with people from all over Western Africa struggling to partake of this the “best and most exciting city of Africa.”

In the second part of the film, the camera follows an impoverished group of Hauka disciples from Niger living in Accra as they flock to the suburbs where they take part in a ritual. In the heat of the ritual, large numbers of Hauka believers enter trance like states as they are possessed by the spirits of colonizers. Some begin taking on the expressions and mannerisms of the English (including the colonial English governor and his entourage). At this point, Rouch inserts scenes from the place where the “real” governor and his entourage met in Accra. This side-by-side scene arrangement brings the film to its dramatic climax and reinforces the film’s implication, that is, in the blink of an eye, the Hauka believers subvert the colonial power and authority of their white rulers as they imitate them.

Rouch, who employs a series of flashbacks in The Crazy Masters, returns to the city the following day to interview members of the Hauka sect that had taken part in the ceremony over the weekend. We see scenes of them back in their daily lives working quietly and efficiently, interwoven with scenes of possession from the previous day’s ceremony.

The debut of this film in Paris in the 1950s caused an uproar and discomfort among viewers, including African intellectuals. Not only were the trance shots a mockery to the government, they showed political structures, both colonial and post colonial, as illegitimate and irrational.

The Crazy Masters is a film about more than spiritual possession and marks a milestone in anthropologic films. Rouch employs visual and sound effects to carefully craft the film’s atmosphere, thereby providing a transforming power that leads members of the audience to reflect and fall into their own trances.

Rouch originally considered films concrete witnesses to culture. In The Crazy Masters, his views changed. He now saw the camera as an ethnographic tool to further the understanding of ethnic groups. Reality cinema contends that ethnographic reality occurs during encounters between researcher and subject or between individuals on either side of the camera. It is not simply the recording of reality. Rouch would no longer use his films to convey existent knowledge; rather he would use them to appeal to and/or influence the viewer’s mind, to throw his senses into turmoil, to overthrow old ways of thinking, and to introduce new depths to knowledge and new ways of understanding.

Jaguar: Moving to the City in Search of Wealth 
Many correlations, including similar settings, exist between Jaguar and The Crazy Masters. Migration, the city, and modern life, the central themes of The Crazy Master, appear again in Jaguar. Although they share the themes of journey and the movement of human beings and structures built on these themes, the films depict different characters, places, and events.

In the movie Jaguar, the three main characters, Lam, Ilom, and Damoure, journey from Savannah, Niger to Ghana’s Gold Coast to seek adventure and fortune, returning two months later. The film is divided into three distinct parts each built around their unfolding stories. The first section begins with the introduction of Lam, Ilom, and Damoure preparing for their journey and ends with them arriving at customs. The second section, focuses on their urban adventures. They reunite in the third section and return home.

Each of Jaguar’s three sections has his own distinct form. The dizzying movement of Rouch’s camera, for example, characterizes the first as it never stops moving, rotating, or shifting as if it were one of the characters. The documentary style of this film is also characterized by sudden departures in this section to surrealistic shots. Rouch employs light, plants, and scenery to reinforce the feeling of “leaving an unfamiliar world for an unknown one.”

In the second section of the movie, our three adventurers head off, each on his own quest. Their stories are staggered to lend to a sensation of confusing, fragmented modern city life. In contrast to the city, the village from which the three young men hail is set in a concrete time, giving it more of a feeling of reality, providing them social identity and legitimacy. Driven by the leading characters’ personalities, Jaguar develops gradually and its plot forms as it extols the subjectivity of man and, because his subjectivity offers limitless possibilities, the city becomes the ideal place for pursuing dreams, fantasies, and new identities. The three leading characters of this film, Lam, Ilom, and Damoure, represent the generations of people of this region that have headed to cities in search of adventure and fortune. Jaguar explores subjectivity and the migration experience of this area.

Me, A Black: A Week in the Lives of Immigrants
Young people from all over pour into Africa’s major cities daily in pursuit of fortune and dreams, but their dreams remain out of reach as the realities of life take precedence. They have no choice but to do odd jobs offering no promise for tomorrow and are referred to as the “new urban plague.”

In Me, A Black, a reality based documentary, a group of laborers from Niger working in the Ivory Coast’s capital city of Abidjan reenact their own lives in front of the camera. The first section of the film shows them throughout the course of a week as they perform odd jobs and try to secure steady work in an attempt to blend into the city. In the second part of the film, the camera follows “Robinson” as he spends his day off at the seashore. The third section portrays another week’s arrival.

Although the second part of the film portrays him relaxing and having a good time, he still cannot seem to find work. In the midst of his reveling, Robinson loses himself in reverie. His fantasies of being a champion boxer, only offer temporary reprieve from his plight. Robinson returns to reality as an Italian hits on the girl he likes and the Italian beats the intoxicated Robinson to a pulp. The scene is followed by the start of a new week as Robinson continues his search for work. Their homeland of Niger seems further and further away as do their childhood memories as they struggle in the bustling, booming city.

The boxer and fight scenes do an excellent job of bringing home the idea of the dialectical relationship between “reality” and “fiction.” Robinson’s dream of being a champion boxer becomes part of the film, revealing his desire to become wealthy as quickly as possible, while the scrap with the Italian heaves him back into reality. While shots of sweat and tears leave the audience wondering if the scenes are real or play-acted, they reveal reality and do an excellent job of accurately conveying day-to-day difficulties experienced by Niger youths in the Ivory Coast.

Tracing Silhouettes 
Like his peers, Rouch strove to realize ocularcentrism’s sight/visual knowledge, regarding things seen, on the one hand, as a kind of sight as optical fact, while viewing the act of seeing as a sense of perception, rather than sight as perceptual phenomena. The experimental nature of his films, however, reveals unique insight derived from intuition. The reality revealed in Rouch’s films, therefore, differ from that of other filmmakers, showing the fundamental distinction being their different ways of seeing things.

Reflecting reality, Rouch’s documentary films are concerned with viewer reaction to social realities, on the one hand, and are characterized by surrealist techniques such as intervention, fabrication, extemporaneous acting, and creative narratives, on the other, as the attempt to overthrow established views on social realities and provide opportunity for change. The effects created by the painstakingly deliberate blending and staggered use of visual and audio elements give the viewer more freedom and power to understand and interpret his films. The techniques he uses for divulging truth to his films their sense of authenticity.

The term “tracing silhouettes” symbolizes drawing outlines around the light of rationality. Rather than being distinct, the lines between rationality and irrationality, light and darkness, whites and blacks drift and shift. Pay close attention to the light’s periphery and see how Rouch’s films blend romanticism with surrealistic humanism.

Review: Grass

Grass: A Nation’s Battle For Life

Ma Teng-yue

Although Grass: A Nation’s Battle For Life (1925) often is praised as the second most important documentary in history of film following Robert J. Flaherty’s Nanook of the North, it is screened far less often than Nanook. People interested in documentaries can read about Grass in many books, but never have a chance to see it. With migration the main theme of the Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival this year, this classic film about the nomadic Middle Eastern Bakhtiari and their move to find new pastures for their flocks has been chosen because, apart from offering a veritable feast for ethnographic film aficionados, image tension and content will be the sources of many discussions among viewers.


I will begin by offering a brief introduction to Grass and the background behind its making. During the early 20th century, the exploration documentary was an important part of the silent movie market. In a time when foreign travel still wasn’t commonplace, exploration documentaries satisfied audiences’ needs to see the world. These films also brought considerable profit to movie companies and producers. In particular, the invention of the small film camera made exploration filmmaking possible. The making of documentary-style films integrating adventure, travel and business reached its peak after the end of World War 1. Examples from this period are Admiral Byrd’s Polar Explorations, William Beebe’s Undersea Voyages, Roy Chapman Andrews’ Discovery of Dinosaur Eggs in the Gobi Desert, and Grass .


In addition to showing the Bakhtiari’s move to new pastures and their battle with nature, the film is also a travelogue about the eastern travels of the film’s producers and photographer, Marguerite Harrison, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. The film begins with the two explorers Harrison and Cooper setting out on a journey to the East in search of “forgotten peoples.” The film follows their simple horse-cart from Ankara on its journey eastwards, traversing Asia Minor towards a distant Persia. Crossing barren plains and salt deserts, they pass village after village as they continue eastwards. The unfamiliar customs they encounter along the way set the tone during the first half of Grass — the fort serving as a refuge for travelers which they see during a night of desert storms, traditional hunters hunting and roasting goats in the Taurus Mountains, the camel-mounted police patrolling the deserts on the Arabic Peninsula and so on. These images of strange lands and customs gradually take the audience eastwards, to the roots of Western history, predating Western history. Finally, we “arrive at the very beginning,” “the forgotten people — the Bakhtiari tribe.”


Beginning with the encounter with the Bakhtiari, the film enters the second stage, which also is the focus of the film. In the eyes of the makers of the film, the Bakhtiari, who rely on livestock to make their living, move with water and pastures, live in simple, ancient tents, and maintain a traditional way of life unchanged over 3,000 years, are a people forgotten by history and civilization. As they arrive, the 50,000-strong Bakhtiari are facing a serious challenge posed by the searing sun, dried up wells and withered grass. The Bakhtiari leader, Haidar Khan, somberly says that there is no more water or grass, and that their cattle will die, followed by children and women. Finally everyone will die, and the whole people will perish due to the lack of water and pastures. In order to survive, they have to make a major move in search of water and pastures, and they must cross over the 12,000 ft Zardeh Kuh mountains in search of the necessary water and pastures in the east. The very day this major move begins, Harrison, Cooper and Schoedsack, three white Western people, arrive to document the whole move, making them the first white people in historic times to traverse the Zardeh Kuh mountains on foot.


Since film techniques at the time did not allow for extravagant methods, all scenes in Grass are quite simple, containing only fixed long-distance and medium-distance shots and close-ups. Without a doubt, however, despite using such simple shots, the audience still strongly feels the willpower and efforts exerted by
humanity in its struggle to survive, in particular in the scene where the 50,000 Bakhtiari cross the Karun River with their 50,000 head of cattle. Many of the animals struggle to swim across the violent river, finally perishing among the waves. The Bakhtiari, crossing the river on goat-skin rafts, have to fight the river while they try to rescue every animal. The six days it takes to cross the river highlight the battle against the elements to survive and the closeness to death, strongly touching the hearts of the audience.


Another moving part of the film is the dangerous crossing of the Zardeh Kuh mountains. One wrong step as they are trying to find a non-existent path among the precipices to cross the majestic mountains will mean a fall down a deep valley with sharp rocks. The snow lies deep above the snow line. The simple shoes are useless, and people simply walk barefoot. To make it easier for the animals, the men shovel the snow, walking bare-foot in waist-deep snow, step by step closing in on the top of the mountain ridge. The audience can feel the pain from the freezing snow. Following the men clearing the road we see a never-ending, meandering line of people and animals moving through the expansive, 150-mile long, snow-covered mountain area.
Viewing Grass today, 80 years after its making, it can be interpreted and discussed from many different angles. First of all, visually speaking, although it is a silent movie, the intense visual tension created by unfamiliar customs, the tough battle against and the overcoming of the elements, life and death, still awes audiences. Audiences will find it rewarding to admire the details in the Grass imagery. Secondly, the intense visual tension of Grass makes it even easier for us to experience the many particular customs of a nomadic people’s culture and society, in particular the ability to survive under harsh environmental conditions. In addition to shocking the audience with the nomadic people’s strong will and ability to survive, it also creates an exceptional curiosity towards the kind of culture developed under such environmental conditions and way of life. 80 years after the making of Grass, the film still holds up a window, making audiences want to see and understand the fascinating nomadic culture and society.


From another perspective, if we want to further understand the way Grass is arranged and presented, a lot of inspiration may be found in Edward W. Said’s book Orientalism. Starting out from Antonio Gramsci’s cultural hegemony and Michel Foucault’s research into the relationship between intellect and power, Said points out that “The East” not only is a passive geographical concept, but that it exists in the centuries-old hegemonic Western intellectual construct of the East. From imaginary constructs of Eastern marginalization, backwardness, despotism and lack of civilization, the West has created a view of itself as the imperturbable center. While “discovering the East” became one of the most enthusiastic Western exploration undertakings in recent centuries, the West also used books to finalize its position as ruler of the East.


In fact, just like the many books about the East in recent times, the point of departure for Grass was the exploration of the unknown East, a rediscovery of a “forgotten people.” The focus of the whole film is, as the narrative text of the film says, “East, East, always East.” Together with innumerable other texts, images and art, Grass has shaped the contemporary Western perception of the East. The basic concept is that the East is unknown and waiting to be discovered, that the East existed before the beginnings of Western history, and that it is the cradle of Western civilization. While Western civilization has continued to develop for 3,000 years, the East still remains in the era of barbarians relying on nature for survival, unchanged from the way it were before the Greek and Roman eras 3,000 years ago. The peoples in the East have become peoples forgotten by the West (civilization), and they have to be rediscovered by the West. Grass is a journey in discovery of these lost Eastern peoples.


The Chinese often say that as rituals are lost, we have to search for them among the uncivilized. The West is not looking to the East for rituals, but rather for a lost and forgotten past. Although there is a difference between the two, both carry a strong sense of historic evolution, making the party being explored feel ill at ease. If we want to criticize this film from the point of view of Orientalism, maybe we should also review and clarify the historical and cultural hegemonic attitudes of China as the center that exists in our own cultural awareness.