Review: Pas-taai – The Saisiyat Ceremony in 1936

A Time Capsule from the Last Century Pastaai — The Saisiyat Ceremony in 1936

Chia-Yu HU

Department of Anthropology, National Taiwan University

As we now live in an age of photography and mechanical reproduction, does that mean, as Walter Benjamin believed, that we are also entering an age when the aura disappears? By viewing the 1936 film of the Saisiyat Ceremony, we can experience the power of film to transport us through time. The images of people and situations captured 70 years ago reappear before our eyes, allowing us to experience an at once real and illusory past; a past where the images are clear, but the message is obscured. “Pastaai — The Saisiyat Ceremony in 1936” is a significant film in several ways, portraying the inauguration of Taiwanese ethnographic filmmaking, interaction between a Japanese anthropologist and Taiwan’s aboriginal community, and changes to the Pastaai ceremony. This information is projected within the context of the film and even faintly among the images portrayed.

1.Taipei Imperial University’s Ethnographic Films

During the 1930’s, few individuals used cameras to record films. The government produced the majority of motion pictures, which served to record events or as propaganda tools. Taipei Imperial University (TIU) was likely the first academic institution to begin producing its own films.

“Pastaai — The Saisiyat Ceremony in 1936” was among those films recorded by the TIU Course on the Study of Local Peoples, now know as the National Taiwan University (NTU) Department of Anthropology. Of the films shot by the Course on the Study of Local Peoples, 17 reels still remain. Nine of these reels record the island’s indigenous peoples – Datung River-Hsinkang (1931), Ilan Lau-lau-a (1932), the Five-year Ceremony in Neiwen Village (1934), Mahoan Village, Patzu Village, Mataian Village (two films, 1935), Pastaai-Saisiyat (1936), Taiya Tribe in Fuhsing Township, Nana Village, while the others include “Anatomy of the Dugong”, “Investigation of Taiwan’s Temples”, “Investigation of Ilan Historical Data” and “A Visit to Xiamen”. Besides the recording of “The Five-year Ceremony”, which had been edited and includes an explanatory script, the films are unadulterated black and white 16mm rough cut silent films.

The Course on the Study of Local Peoples used cameras as tools in their field work. Professor Utsurikawa Nenozo was responsible for performing interviews and his assistant Miyamoto served as cameraman. TIU Linguistics Professor Asai Erin also filmed a few documentaries about Taiwan’s aborigines. Miyamoto’s films, which include “Pastaai — The Saisiyat Ceremony in 1936”, were later transferred to the NTU Department of Anthropology for storage, while Asai’s films were stored in the Center for Asian Studies at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. In the 1930’s, motion pictures were still in their infancy. The new technology was not only expensive, but the quality of the recordings was unstable. Therefore, few films were made and most of those that survive have not yet been organized or presented. For several decades after Japan’s defeat, the films produced by the Course on the Study of Local Peoples gathered dust in a storeroom. They were only found in 1994 after the Department of Anthropology performed an inventory of all its specimens and images stowed away in their storerooms. Time had taken its toll on the films and they were unplayable. In 2000, the National Film Library and Department of Anthropology worked together to conserve and duplicate the films. The following year, in coordination with the National Digital Archives Program, the Department of Anthropology began to study and digitize the restored films and do research on related background information. Thanks to these efforts, the public can finally view Taiwan’s first ethnographic film, made over 70 years ago.

2.Anthropological Investigation’s Role in the Abolishment or Preservation of Aboriginal Ceremonies

This film of the Saisiyat Ceremony in 1936 was one of the best preserved among the department’s early documentaries. The camera technique is relatively mature and the subject matter is profound, but the film is especially significant because its background touches on Japanese colonial rule, anthropological investigation, and changes in aboriginal society. According to surviving records, Miyamoto and Utsurikawa of the Course on the Study of Local Peoples performed fieldwork on the Saisiat people at least twice. They first visited Hsinchu and Miaoli in October 1931 to examine the Saisiat tribe’s migration legends and genealogy. The two returned between November 26 and December 1, 1936, this time investigating the Pas-taai Ceremony held in Taai village near Mt. Wuchih in Hsinchu. These two anthropologists did not leave us any explanation as to why they decided to survey and film. However, the famous headman of the Saisiat, Taro Umao (Tsao Ming-cheng), who took part in the Beipu Incident (1907) and the Syakaro Punitive Expedition (1926), and his family often appear in the film. Some therefore suppose that the headman helped to make arrangements and provided assistance to the researchers. Following the Wushe Incident (1930), the Japanese government intensified programs to “civilize” aborigines and abolish undesirable customs. From 1932-1927, Taiwan’s Governor-General Nakagawa Kenji carried out assimilation and interior land integration policies, which broadened the scope of alterations to Taiwan’s original culture and customs. Japanese authorities categorized many aboriginal ceremonies and rituals along with some religious practices of the Han Chinese people as superstitions that should be abolished. While Miyamoto and Utsurikawa did not leave us any clues, history sheds some light on the motivations for their survey of Taiwan’s ceremonies and temples, which undoubtedly were related to these policy changes.

Interestingly, while the anthropologists’ records do not mention any connection between their work and these policies, the Saisiat people themselves report that the anthropological survey had far-reaching effects on the tribe. Taai Village resident, Mr. Chao Chen-kuei, a teacher, learned from his father’s handwritten journal and tribal elders that his father, Oebay Taro (Tsao Wang-hua, second son of Taro Umao), held the post of sergeant in the 1930’s. His responsibilities included representing the tribe in dispute mediation and assisting the Japanese Government with coordination and communication work. In September 1937, the Japanese government tried to abolish the Pas-taai Ceremony. Oebay Taro advised the governor that the Saisiat would be willing to fight such an order to the death. Upon hearing this, the governor asked Miyamoto and Utsurikawa to investigate firsthand. With Oebay Taro serving as translator, they interviewed the ceremony’s officiant, tribal elders, and Taro Umao to learn aout the Pastaai Ceremony. Miyamoto and Utsurikawa were persuaded by the Saisiat that the ceremony was a valuable part of the local culture and should not be abolished. Following their report, the governor allowed the ceremony to continue, but ordered it shortened to five days from the original seven. When the Pastaai Ceremony was held again in 1938, Hsinchu Governor Akahori personally attended, much to the delight of the Saisiat tribesmen. There are some differences between the academics’ records and the recollections of the Saisiat people regarding the research and filming. There is also an inconsistency in the timing, as the work was either carried out in 1936 or 1937. These details are not so important if we consider the anthropologists’ fieldwork from another angle, from the tribe’s point of view. In their minds, the lead figures were their fellow Saisiat, who had their own expectations and motivations. They could utilize the anthropologists as an outside resource to improve the tribe’s inferior position. If the Pastaai Ceremony was thereby allowed to continue, it is a rare example in Taiwan’s anthropological history and is worth celebrating.

3.Images of the Ceremonial Grounds

We may never know if it really was the anthropological investigation that spared the Pastaai Ceremony, but it has in fact continued over the years. Today it is still one of the grandest, most solemn, and most unique of Taiwan’s aboriginal ceremonies. After reviewing the film, it is clear that the ritual’s structure, taboos, and symbols have changed little over the past 70 years. The ceremony is made up of three parts: the pre-ceremony preparations, official ceremonial activities, and post-ceremony appreciation and celebration. Miyamoto’s film focuses on the seven days of the actual ceremony, including the Welcoming of God on November 27, the speech by the headman at midnight on the 27th, and its official close on December 1. The first full moon after the rice harvest in 1936 fell on November 28 (Oct. 15, Chinese Lunar Calendar), so the tribe followed the lunar calendar to schedule the ceremony. The films opens with a shot of the grass knots hung on the ceremonial hut. A mortar and pestle are pushed out of the hut, while the tribesmen stand outside singing to welcome the spirits. They then use the mortar and pestle to make a glutinous rice cake offering. A series of scenes follow portraying the Saisiat delaying (kish-rinaolan), entertaining (kish-tomal), chasing (papatnawaSak), banishing (papatnaoloraz), and seeing off (kis-papaosa) the spirits after providing them with provisions (papasibilil). Tribe members carry a hazel tree trunk horizontally and symbolically cut it down and then into pieces (mari ka sibok).

The film also reflects some of the unique aspects of the ceremony. Prior to the paksa:o, which serves to welcome the spirits and provide them with food, each participant carries a fish into the ceremonial hut. The kirakil headdress, which can only be crafted around the time of the ceremony, was worn on the head. Today, the kirakil is a heavy flag used in the ceremonial dancing that must instead be carried on the shoulders. In the film, three young mean wearing the kirakil continuously leap and dance. At the center of the ceremonial grounds stand a crowd of singing and dancing Saisiat tribesmen. While some don traditional woven clothing, others are wearing Han Chinese or Japanese style clothing, revealing that the diversification of everyday goods and materials had already begun. The scene is bustling and impressive, with more than 200 people circling the grounds observing the ceremony. In addition to watching the images portrayed on the screen, we can also go a step further to learn about changes that occurred in the ceremony by noting what is missing from the film. The Pastaai Grand Ceremony, which is held every 10 years, should have fallen in 1936, but in we do not see the sinatun, or flag of the grand ceremony, raised high over the festivities. Many of the Saisiat elders mentioned that prior to the Japanese Occupation, the Pastaai Ceremony was held once each year and the entire tribe gathered together on the same ceremonial grounds. Made in 1936, the film shows that was no longer the case, with the ceremony already split between the northern and southern ceremonial grounds. However, it does not tell us whether the ceremony was still held once a year at this point or if the Grand Ceremony was only developed after this time. The film has left behind a few mysteries that have yet to be solved.


This film of the Saisiat Ceremony is a valuable historical document that represents the first time a Taiwanese local cultural event was documented on film. Its value comes not only from the images it conveys, but from the introspection it provokes in viewers. By watching, viewers get a bit of a jolt, not only because of what it does portray, but also because of what does not appear in the film, both of which require our reflection and understanding. What we can perceive from watching the film comes not only from the onscreen images, but from the contemplation and emotion that viewing precipitates. The audience experiences the vitality of human culture through a film that was made over seven decades ago. While the world has swiftly changed around it, the Pastaai Ceremony still survives, illustrating the cohesiveness and dynamism of the Saisiat.

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Review: Dead Birds

Daw-Ming LEE

Associate professor, Graduate School of Filmmaking, Taipei National University of the Arts

Dead Birds—a classic work in early history of ethnographic film—is about the Dani, a people dwelling in the Grand Valley of the highlands of New Guinea. It was shot in 1961 by Robert Gardner, a famous ethnographic filmmaker with an anthropology background who started shooting and editing ethnographic films and documentaries in the 1950s.

In 1960, the Aboriginal Affairs Minister in Dutch New Guinea went to the United States to attract American anthropologists’ interest in field work in New Guinea. Although the Dani had met western culture, they still used stone tools (for the most part) with a few metal tools in their daily life and frequently had ritualized intertribal warfare with spears and arrows as their weapons. Anthropologists and ethnographic filmmakers of course would not let the chance of witnessing or filming this primitive Stone Age way of life slip away. As an ethnographic filmmaker, Gardner thus organized the Harvard Peabody Expedition, which was comprised of film producers, anthropologists, and naturalists, to conduct research and filming in the challenging cultural environment of New Guinea.

There were very few ethnographic films in western countries before Dead Birds was introduced. The most famous among the few was Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North, which set the initial style for the genre—focusing on one or two individuals in the film and presenting the culture of the group through footage of their adventurous life. John Marshall’s The Hunters, another classic in the early period, was produced in the same style. Marshall and his family went off to the Karahari desert in southern Africa in 1951 to study the life and culture of the Ju/’hoansi people. After shooting a vast amount of film he completed the first film of a series–The Hunters–in 1958, of which the subject matter was four Ju/’hoansi men hunting giraffes. As Gardner was involved in the film editing of The Hunters, it was believed that this experience would have certain influence over the style of his later creation of Dead Birds.

When Gardner arrived at the shooting scene in New Guinea, the first thing he did was to look for shooting targets. He found Wejak, a warrior, and Pua, a pig herding boy. He spent plenty of time to build relationships with them and their family and to understand their daily life. He used their daily life stories to form the spine of the film combined with battles and rituals. The name of the film—Dead Birds—was inspired by a fable about the Dani. The story said that there was an argument between a bird and a snake about whether man would die like a bird or would live forever like a snake by shedding its skin. The result was in favor of the bird. Since then, all men must die like birds. The terms “dead birds” or “dead people” in the Dani culture also referred to the spoils of war. In Dead Birds, every episode was recorded based on true events. One day during Gardner’s five month stay in the Grand Valley, some children went to a river and played in water while the tribe was having a rite called wam kanekhe. There were no guardians in the area and they were raided by an enemy tribe, causing one to be killed. Once the funeral for the child was over, people in the tribe killed one person from the enemy tribe for revenge to keep the whole tribe away from the threat of the spiteful spirit.

In fact, Gardner and his Harvard partners, including anthropology graduate Karl G. Heider and naturalist Peter Matthiessen, were conducting ethnographic surveys and shooting the film at the same time. As they knew little about the culture of the Dani, each member of the expedition studied and observed the tribe by themselves during the day and exchanged information and ideas at dinner. When Gardner shot ritual or battle scenes, other members were also on the spot but would avoid being shot by the camera. Although Gardner had considered including the field work process as opening or ending footage of the film, he later decided not to do so. It’s a pity that this decision took away the reflexive angle to the film.

In Dead Birds, there is a ten-minute footage of the child’s funeral. One of the Dani customs was that when one person was killed by an enemy the tribe needed to hold a ritual of “fresh blood”. Hundreds of villagers would gather together, and show and exchange a great deal of pigs, fishing nets and cowry shells to pacify the ghosts, especially the spirit of the dead. The film showed a crowd of people sharing things such as cowry shells, preparing the body, burning the woodpile, and holding a ceremony to free the spirit of the dead from the body and send it to the forest. The film production team did not understand the Dani’s culture well and therefore put the emphasis on the emotions around death and the ceremony. Both the images and the sounds, the facial expressions of different individuals in particular, accentuated the atmosphere of mourning and grief. However, the more important part in the one-day funeral, later discovered by Heider, was the interaction between villagers, e.g. greetings, gift exchanging, gossiping, and offering sharing. In every interaction the Dani would appropriately express specific emotions. The film should have focused on the subtle interactions and emotional changes among the Dani to convey ethnographic knowledge more accurately. Of course, Dead Birds did not falsely portray the basic ethnological facts of the funeral (e.g. economic exchange behavior, symbolism, belief in ghosts). The focus of the film in fact reflected the trend of academic training studying anthropology in the 1950s. However, as interaction theory and emotional behaviors have got more and more attention from anthropologists, Gardner would definitely use a different approach to shoot the subject of Dead Birds, if he had another chance.

Dead Birds was produced in 1961 when photographic and sound recording equipment was going through major changes. Long takes became possible and therefore added into the film a flavor of contemporary documentary similar to “cinema verite”, a newly-developed style of film-making at that time. An Arriflex 16mm camera with a magazine holding 400 feet of film, together with a self-made battery, was used for Gardner to shoot a 12-minute sequence, non-stop. It might sound like a significant obstacle instead of an advantage compared with today’s digital cameras which support 2 hours of constant shooting. However, it should be known that before 1960 most motion picture cameras could only take shots of no more than 3 minutes, causing every shot to be very short and making long following shots impossible. Hence, what Gardner achieved in Dead Birds was indeed a milestone in ethnographic film history. Unfortunately, a synchronized sound track was still unachievable at that time. Sounds had to be recorded by Michael Rockefeller, the sound recordist, for post-synchronization. (Yes! He was the youngest son of the former US vice president Nelson Rockefeller who disappeared in southern New Guinea during the study of the Asmat.) In addition, a great deal of narrative monologues were used by Gardner in order to construct the overall narrative structure and to help develop a classic story line—beginning, conflicts, rising actions, turning points, climax, and ending. And it is the usage of the monologue and the dramatic structure that is most often criticized. Gardner would narrate monologues in the present tense to tell viewers what the principals were thinking and the deep philosophical thoughts which the Dani had about death.

In this regard, many anthropologists have harshly criticized the film. Craig Mishler’s criticism may be the strongest among them all. He said, “My judgment is that Dead Birds has been colored by so many subtle fictional pretensions and artistic ornamentations that it has surrendered most of its usefulness as a socially scientific document.” However, David MacDougall thought that Dead Birds was not designed and did not only present the subjective view of the Dani clan. He believed that the film, more importantly, was to reveal issues which human beings had to face immediately. For example, the scene of ritualized battle was to encourage the viewers to contemplate warfare from a different angle while developing a sense of identification with people in other societies through the film. In other words, MacDougall believed that Gardner was trying to philosophize about death and violence by interpreting the Dani experience through mythology, a form of traditional literature. This was the reason that Gardner used some old sayings or even rhymed monologues in poetic form to describe the Dani’s interior thoughts. The usage of monologues in the present tense, from MacDougall’s perspective, created a legendary atmosphere, effects of fable and metaphor, and a more intimate feeling. An example of a monologue is, “This scene always cheers him up even when he thinks about the enemy’s plan of attack.” In MacDougall opinion, applying traditional literature was a style that went beyond what filmmakers would then typically choose. Nor was it used by humanists. Yet Gardner’s approach may be more persuasive 30 years after Dead Birds was first introduced, when various experiments are now being made widely. In short, MacDougall thinks there are a couple of things worth paying attention to: (1) bringing Dani myth into the film marks the beginning of using literary materials to explain human behaviors in ethnographic films; (2) the approach taken in Dead Birds matches the thought of some anthropologists who want to use experiences in other societies to criticize their own culture.

When Gardner was about to finish the production of Dead Birds, he moved his “Film Study Center” from the Peabody Museum to Harvard’s newly established visual arts center to undertake education and training in ethnographic film and filmmaking. It was unfortunate that the Film Study Center was not able to build a partnership with the anthropology department of Harvard to co-develop the theory and practice of ethnographic film. Gardner later started production of other ethnographic films. The subjects of his films include African nomads, Indians, and Columbian aborigines. In his later works, he gradually took away the monologues and directly used images as a means of communication. Although his films seem to be in the form of realism, or even ethnography, they are indeed anti-realist and closer to symbolism. When he was shooting different cultures, he was reluctant to “responsibly” explain these cultures like average anthropologists. As his films prevail, Gardner has been regarded as an influential and controversial heavyweight by western anthropologists. And it is no doubt that a variety of topics inspired by his works will continue to be raised, discussed, and debated.



Devereaux, Leslie and Hillman, Roger, ed. (1995). Fields of Vision: Essays in Film Studies, Visual Anthropology, and Photography. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Heider, Karl G. (1976). Ethnographic Film. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Heider, Karl G. (2004). Seeing Anthropology: Cultural Anthropology through Film (Third Edition). Boston: Pearson Education.

Loizos, Peter (1993). Innovation in ethnographic film: From innocence to self-consciousness, 1955-1985. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

MacDougall, David (1998). Transcultural Cinema. Princeton: Princeton University Press.


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Review: The Almighty New Vision of Mankind

Pei-Yi KUO
Assistant Research Fellow, Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica

Every year the Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival chooses non-mainstream ethnographic films produced in the past two or three years for the “New Vision” program. The films in this showcase are from different regions across the world, and each film is concerned with a different topic that reflects the diversity and challenges of the contemporary world. The nine foreign films chosen this year each grasp the texture of a culture through their images, and broaden our vision of the world.

Tradition’s survival in times of national crisis

There are six films that have chosen Asia as a shooting location in this year’s New Vision program. Three of them were shot in China and discuss an important issue: how do minority ethnic groups and individuals maintain their cultural traditions when they are oppressed by the government, and how will tradition survive in this moment of crisis.

Bimo is a word which means the traditional oracle of the Yi clan. This person is familiar with ancient texts and rituals. The Bimo mediates between the human world and that of the supernatural. In modern Szechuan, the Bimo are known as the protectors of culture and knowledge, yet they also face the challenges of a changing political and social environment. “The Bimo Records” documents the story of three Bimo. The film features the spirit of the Yi clan’s traditional wisdom and culture, and it also touches on the intrusion of state power which clashes with the Yi clan and its Bimo culture. The director films in the color tones of traditional oriental painting to show the enormous and powerful scenery of the “ancient” Yi clan. He also uses stylish images to suggest the different worlds of the Bimos. We see the Bimos’ rituals for curing people and reviving spirits mostly through long shots, obscure lighting, and over-the-shoulder shots, we are only allowed to take a peek at this mysterious world. From a closer distance, we see a black magic Bimo under the shades of wooden blinds as he talks about how the government restricts the practice of magic. Most directly, the film talks about a Bimo who is also a cadre in the village, as he tries to use his political power to smooth the situation, but is forced to follow the Communist Party’s orders. “The Bimo Records” portrays the Bimo and the Yi clan with ancient colors. Director Yang Rui from China takes a peek at their struggles and the pain that they are facing.


If “The Bimo Records” touches on heavy topics, then “On a Tightrope” is a more direct portrayal of political pressure. The film looks at how a Chinese minority people live between political interference and religious tradition like walking on a tight rope with no safety net. Uyghur director Peter Lom chose the children from an orphanage as his topic. They lost their blood parents, but through propaganda and education, the government tries to teach the children “The Communist Party is our father and mother”. Everyone must protect China’s unity and progress. “Eighteen Bans” are enforced in the region. They ban people from religious belief, and people under eighteen years old cannot study religion, nor can they wear religious clothing. The country wants children to worship communism and socialism, to worship Mao and Marx as their leaders, and to be anti-separatists. To the children, these slogans don’t have meaning. From their daily conversation, it is still evident that Uyghur people’s belief is still Islamic. One tradition of the Uyghur people is walking the rope. The film tells the story of four children learning how to walk the rope, and see how these people find their own path between religion, tradition, and government propaganda.

Speaking of Chinese oppression, the most infamous case is Tibet. However Tibetan lamas don’t only have one voice. In “Angry Monk”, the film follows the legendary and controversial lama Gundun Choephel, as he travels through Tsing Hai, Tibet, and India. From his birth in the early 20th century, to the arrival of the Communists, his death in 1951, and finally to the Lhasa that has night clubs as well as temples. The film uses archival footage and a modern “road trip” film style to interview Gundun’s travel companions, historians, and the people who snitched on him. The film looks at this lama’s legendary life, and ponders how Tibet struggles between tradition and modernization. Gundun Choephel dug through Tibet’s history and saw the evil of religious politics. He did not follow traditional restrictions, even those on alcohol and sex. He wished to use an open attitude towards reform, and let Tibetans have a connection with modern society and the world. This philosophy was not acceptable to the Tibetan government at the time. Under the accusation of the conservatives, he was imprisoned. Extreme traditionalists and outside authority closed in with great force. Before Gundun passed away, he saw the raid of the Chinese army, and Tibetan history was turned over violently.

The junction of different ethnicities and religions: co-existing, convergence, or violence?

South Asia has many ethnic groups and religions. Besides the largest groups of Muslims and Hindus, there are also Jews and Christians and other smaller religious groups. There are many combinations in their relationships. There are convergences of some religious elements, and there are some groups who are opposing who choose to co-exist, but some are so hostile towards each other that they fall into a vicious cycle of constant revenge.

In Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan, a branch of Islamic followers believe that only through love and faith for the saints, through ecstatic trance, will one see the beloved Sufi Saints. “The Ecstatic” documents the enormous ritual where millions of followers flood in to the Sehwan Sharif temple in south Pakistan. They use bodily movement to show their religious zeal, including shaking, self beating, cutting, stabbing, and all sorts of twirling – full body twirling, twirling the head, even heading towards circular racecourses where there are high speed motorcycle and cars in circulation, and walking on Ferris wheels. In the cultural junction of South Asia, do these Islamic followers carry an element of Hinduism in their trances? Through full devotion of body and self-conscious, will they acquire what they are searching for?

In Islamic Afghanistan, Jews are gradually leaving. There are only two Jews left in a synagogue in Kabul. How do they keep surviving in the Islamic environment? These two people who believe in the same religion do not unite in a cabal. Instead, they live individually and quarrel all the time. Zabulon lives upstairs. He has a servant, TV, refrigerator, meat, wine, and fruit for every meal, whereas Isaac who lives downstairs is old and lives poorly. He sells amulets and cures to Muslims for a living. In “Cabal in Kabul”, the director becomes familiar with both men over several years. He follows the two in the streets and markets of Kabul. He listens to how Isaac gives orders, and listens to how they argue and accuse each other. Zabulon suspects that Isaac has betrayed Judaism. Isaac thinks that Islamic followers think of them as unbelievers. But his Islamic clients love Isaac. In this corner of the world, religions co-exist in unequal ways.

However, sometimes different religions and ethnic groups may not find it easy to co-exist. Conflicts can hurt people like explosives. One day, Dharsika’s mother finds out that her only daughter, 12 years old, has left home after her father’s death in the war. After several years, they meet again. Dharsika has joined the Hindu guerilla group, the Tamil Tigers. They fight the Sinhalese Buddhists who control the Sri Lanka government. She voluntarily accepts training for suicide bombing missions. They meet very briefly in the camp, and lose contact after. The sad mother can only pray to Jehovah. Why are there more and more female suicide bombers? What’s their motive and mental state? How do they form a strong bond with their comrades? How do their mothers face this wounding sadness? Female Norwegian director Beate Arnestad spent three years in Sri Lanka researching the relation between war and women, and shot this documentary “My Daughter the Terrorist.” The film was hard to make, in the closest possible distance, looking at the life and training of volunteer female soldiers, their emotional journey and the mission of the guerillas. The two female soldiers Dharsika and Puhalchudar describe their childhood in the war, their reasons for joining the army, their loyalty to the organization, their fearlessness towards death, and their comrade friendship. At the same time, how does Dharsika’s mother face the broken home and family, and the pain of not knowing whether her daughter will survive or not? In the film, we also see that the “terrorist” is just a daughter to a mother; the violence and hatred that circulate endlessly in the society is the real terror.

Writing with Poems, Searching with Poems.

Mahaleo is a famous band in Madagascar, the meaning of the name is freedom and independence. The band started as a group of students, but their music encouraged the people in the fight for independence in the anti-colonization movement. Although the country has declared independence, their songs lived on to become legends. Thirty years later, are these people still well? Other than continuing to sing and let their lyrics touch on social issues such as the environment and poverty, the seven members continue to work hard in different aspects of the society. One practices medicine, one is in politics, one is a scholar, one is helping to develop the villages, and one has returned to the land to speak for the farmers. “Mahaleo” is a film about a band that is going to hold a thirty year anniversary concert. Through the eyes of the seven members, we see the social changes and challenges in the thirty years since the independence of Madagascar. The revolution is not yet successful, we still have to work hard. One of the directors, Cesar Paes, screened his film “Madagascar Islands Legend” at the first International Ethnographic Film Festival. It shows the traditional culture of Madagascar in a poetic style. This time, he collaborates with Madagascar director Raymond Rajaonarivelo. The film uses the music of the Mahaleo band which brings together musical elements from the Madagascar highlands, Africa, and Austronesia, with the socially reflective lyrics as the voice over. It successfully portrays Madagascar in a poetic form.

Another island full of poems and music is Cuba. “Two Homelands, Cuba and the Night”, is inspired by the works of a famous gay Cuban artist, Reinaldo Arenas, and connects five gay men and one transsexual, thus showing several images of homosexuals in Havana. Through Arenas’ old gay men and middle-aged revolutionaries, a macho photographer, drag queens, and young men who hand around in gay bars, we see that other than political freedom, the freedom that the Cuban society is searching for is also sexual orientation and freedom to express oneself. Reinaldo Arenas was full of talent. But because he was publicly known to by gay, he was imprisoned in the 70’s. He escaped to the US and committed suicide. His autobiography “Before Night Falls” was made in to a film. He is full of words searching for freedom and love, which is the same as what the Cuban gay community was looking for in that era: they swung between two homes, Cuba and the Night.

Besides the search for freedom and equality, there is also the search for family love. “Chichester’s Choice” is about the director’s search for her father. The search starts in Canada and ends in Brazil. She is looking for the father who abandoned her at the age of six. She then finds out that he has become a bum on the streets of Brazil. The director knows that this journey is not just a search for her father, but a search for herself. However, the process touches on too many unhappy memories, alcoholism, unfaithful, incest, mother daughter conflict, the ups and downs in this journey and the truth prove hard to face and to grasp.

From children to the elderly, across islands to highlands, across differences in sex and sexual orientation, these films depict very unique individuals, their hardships and choices, their sadness, happiness and courage. In their particular political and cultural contexts, it is the story of their hard work. Looking at the modern world through New Vision, what people care about and their unsolved issues are not new. Human beings continue to ponder and struggle individually and in groups the questions of traditional culture, how to face the state, ethnicity, religion, and the spirit of capitalism, and the oppression and inequality they create.

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