Film, Resumed

I was in New York City for a week in March and met up with two female filmmaker friends who both lamented about projects that were never completed. I think this is a problem that we face as female artists. It’s often our third or even fourth job and we never have enough time or money to focus exclusively on our projects. Especially now in New York City, with the cost of living being through the roof, you need to scramble just to eat and pay your rent.

Last year, I saw the winds changing in Taiwan and realized that the film needed to be out. We got into the Media Library at Visions du Réel and I went to Switzerland to talk up the film. I was even more thrilled that the film was accepted to the Videotheque of the Sheffield Doc Fest, one of the premiere documentary film festivals of the world. But I was denied entry back to London and found myself stranded in France, not sure what to do.

So I had to stop working on the documentary to figure out my life. And in the meantime, I watched as Taiwan went through a series of exciting political developments, culminating with the DPP sweeping the recent election. This, of course, made Almost Home: Taiwan a little obsolete. In New York, I lamented to my filmmaker friends that I’d have to adjust the ending to reflect the new reality in Taiwan. They both insisted that I needed to buckle down and do it or be haunted for the rest of my life.

So I’m back in Berlin with a modicum of stability and an artist visa allowing me to stay for two years. And after an interruption of about a year, I’m finally resuming work on Almost Home: Taiwan. The bulk of the film is Taiwan’s buried history and I think think this is an important enough reason for the film to exist. Maybe I will just stop at the fight for democracy in 1980s to mid-1990s and make it clear that the fight continues. My goal is to finish a final final final edit of the film by June 3rd in time to submit to Doc NYC. I’ll also secure music rights and (finally!!!) make DVDs for people who donated way way back.

Hopefully, life won’t interrupt again in such a dramatic way.

Thanks so much for your continued support! I promise that this film WILL be done.

A Piece of the Film for Peace on 228

Nearly seventy years ago this week, the Taiwanese rose up against the Nationalist Chinese and were brutally supressed. The 228 uprising is tragic not only for the loss of an entire generation of Taiwanese leaders, but also because it could’ve been so different. What if there had been international support for the Taiwanese? What if the Taiwanese had been able to retain control of the island? What if Chiang Kai Shek made the decision to work with the Taiwanese? Instead, over 20,000 people were executed or they simply vanished. For the next 40 years, Taiwan was blanketed by the White Terror.

I think it’s so beautiful that Taiwan commemorates February 28th as Peace Memorial Day. It’s not a day of mourning or a day of infamy. Instead, it’s a day to remember why we need to work towards peace in the world. The past happened and somehow, we all have to live with what occurred. But there’s no way to live with a past that is buried. Anything suppressed rankles and burns and seethes. This is part of why I made Almost Home: Taiwan. And of course, without understanding the history of Taiwan, there’s no way to understand the present.

So to commemorate 228, here’s the history animation that’s in the film. Taiwan’s entire history in 3 minutes!  With sound effects! Including everything up to the recent election!  The animation is under creative commons license so feel free to spread it around. Just credit me, the fabulous animator Raj Kottamasu and brilliant vocal cartoonist Zero Boy.

Happy Peace Memorial Day! ❤

 

Horse in Front of the Cart

For two weeks, I’ve been struggling to make one little edit on the film, export it, and then upload it to a video-on-demand platform. But I’ve realized that with my lack of resources and desire to make the project available, I’m skipping a ridiculously important step. So I’m writing partially in admittance of defeat and partially wondering if there is some way to right the situation and finally put the horse in front of the cart.

This film has taken six years to finish because I’ve only been able to raise $3,000 to $5.000 at once. Maybe it’s because I’m just not that comfortable asking. Maybe it’s my gender or lack of abilities or some tragic flaw in my character. I would do as much as I could with the money I had and then I’d have to gather the energy and gumption to go and raise some more money. I’m grateful for everyone who’s donated  – not only money but also advice and solidarity – but this is not how to do something well. I’m exhausted with spending so much time fundraising. There have been six editors and four animators each doing bits and pieces. The sound never was properly done. And I’ve never been able to afford the rights to the music and news footage.

That last bit is really a problem. Of course, I conveniently forgot all about it during this past month. But yesterday, I woke up kicking myself, “What am I thinking?!!

There is fair use and presidential footage is supposedly in the public domain, but I’d have to at least engage an entertainment lawyer. And there’s no getting around the six songs in the film. My specific idea was to use Taiwanese songs that would give the film a depth of authenticity, but that means I have to get the rights from the musicians.

So it pains me to have to admit that I can’t make this film public. Unless I raise some more money. And I’m not sure I have the energy or willpower to do this.

At Cannes, I met a lawyer who said she would take on the clearance for $1,500. A previous lawyer thought she could get the rights for $250 per song. And there’s a researcher I’ve worked with who said he could try to get the rights to the television footage, but I think I would have to give him at least $1,000. This means that I’ll have to raise at least $5,000 before I can make this film available.

Is this worth it?  I don’t know if I can crowdfund again. Does anyone have any ideas? Strategies?

Hello from NYC (updates on the film)

It’s the day of the dead, day of transformation. I’m back in NYC, enjoying an amazingly sunny autumn, and thinking about this film, which has been such a struggle, but has somehow managed to find so much love and support from all of you amazing people. I’m still penniless but with a new donation, I did manage to send the film to Slamdance. And it seems that we will be screening the film at the University of Tübingen on November 27th (more info soon…) So there is some progress.

But it was a big blow not being able to return to London in April. For those of you who don’t know, the long story short is that I was denied entry back to UK. This caused me to miss out on the Sheffield Doc Fest, which had accepted ALMOST HOME: TAIWAN  to the Videotheque and my new Taiwan project MISSING to the Specials Board. With my life suddenly upended, I was too scattered to follow up on interest from Dok Leipzig, Seattle International Film Festival, and Asian-American International Film Festival in NYC, much less get DVDs made. All I managed to do was transport myself to Berlin where I’m still trying to get back on my feet.

I did go to Cannes, but it wasn’t really the place for documentaries. And maybe I spent too much time at the festival with my face pressed up to the other side of the glass, wishing my luggage would arrive from London so I could attend events and skipping out on parties since I didn’t have any money. On the other hand, I made a Japanese connection that might help in getting MISSING produced.

I haven’t even mentioned losing my apartment in NYC or the computer dying on me quite suddenly this summer… It’s ridiculous how expensive it is to be poor.

But I really want to get this film out and it’s a good time because of the election in January. It really feels like this is a turning point for Taiwan. So here’s the all! new! game plan:

November 7-10
I have one teensy edit to accomplish. I can’t do it myself since I still don’t have Final Cut after the death of my most recent computer. But this should take all of ten minutes for an editor. Once I get my hard drive back from one of the many places I’ve lived in the last six months. And buy a cable that has weirdly gone AWOL.

November 15
After the edit, the film can be exported to VHX where I’ll make it available for downloads at $5.

December 15
The goal is to get enough downloads that I can make the $160 necessary to create DVDs for donors by the New Year. Or maybe even Christmas!!!

January 10
DVDs available to the general public via Createshare.

Thanks for your patience and support, everyone! We are close, so very very close, to getting this film out there. Hope you are all having a great day of dressing up and being a supernatural, supernova version of yourself. Happy Halloween!

From SoCal to Switzerland

The annual conference for the North American Taiwanese Women’s Association (NATWA) was a blast as usual. Highlights included a hundred Taiwanese women aged 50+ dancing to old Taiwanese hits while waving iPhones lit up with a flashlight app. I was invited to be part of a panel of younger Taiwanese women artists on Sunday. It was a bit of a financial struggle to go, but after the committee in my head debated it for several weeks, I finally decided it was important to attend a conference that was built around the theme of women artists.

Since I began working on ALMOST HOME: TAIWAN, my big pitch to the Taiwanese community has been that they need to consider the arts as a means of promoting awareness of Taiwan issues. Artists are rarely recognized or encouraged in Taiwanese culture. And I’ve lately been keenly feeling this lack of support, which continues to emanate from my parents though I’ve been doing what I do for over 20 years now. It actually seems to be an issue that increases each year, like I’m having a more and more difficult time shoring up a building with a major missing foundational beam. So besides the opportunity to present my work to more people, part of my decision to go to San Diego was the idea that maybe in some little way, I could help a future generation of Taiwanese-American artists.

And of course, it was a fantastic weekend culminating in a great screening at the Taiwanese Center in San Diego. At first I was a bit worried about the screening since I was warned that there might not be much of an audience but in the end, we had to put out another row of chairs since around 30 people showed up. We ended with several new contributors and an invitation to come to Houston and Los Angeles with the film. Thank you to the Wu Family Foundation, Gin Ru Lee, Carol Ou, Jin Pi (Stone) Shih, Deana Chuang, Jen Kuo and Joann Lo for a lovely weekend. And to Bruno Reinhart for helping to make this trip possible. ❤ to all of you!

After the screening, I was dropped off at the airport and flew straight from San Diego to Switzerland on an overnight flight wedged between two large men. My couchsurfing host in Lausanne turned out to be a sexy Polish paraglider and I ended up staying an extra day wandering through the mountains and medieval towns of Valais with him.

But first, I had about a week at Visions du Réel, meeting several interesting filmmakers and learning more about the documentary industry. There was a strong Eastern European component to the festival, which was a big plus, since I always find that people from behind the Iron Curtain have an instant connection with Taiwan’s struggle for democracy. And I think it’s worth it just speaking to people about Taiwan. It’s very gratifying to continually surprise people with the facts of Taiwan’s history. Even if the film doesn’t get wide distribution, at least there are now twenty more people who know about Taiwan and perhaps they will tell a few friends who will tell a few friends and the truth will spread.

Back to London tomorrow! And maybe Sheffield Doc Fest in June??? If I can find the money. The committee in my head is already debating…

[…this was written on April 28th & things have changed slightly…I’m actually off to Cannes! more soon…]

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Every film in the Visions Du Réel Festival started with this over-excited guy shouting, “Let’s go outside & smash all the windows!!!!”

 

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Almost Home: Taiwan poster at the Media Library in the Visions du Réel Festival.

 

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Cute fairytale castle of Nyon.

 

In Which A Sneak Preview in London Elicits Several Challenging Questions

So there’s a sneak preview screening of ALMOST HOME: TAIWAN on 10th April in London. Here’s the Facebook page on it, which is accessible to the public. If you have friends in Blightly, please let them know! It’s a benefit screening since I’m trying to figure out with my meagre means how I might travel to the NATWA conference in San Diego and Visions du Réel in Switzerland without starving too much or finding myself stranded in an unknown foreign country.

In trying to rustle up an audience, I contacted the Taiwan Centre at the University of London to ask if they could attend. Unfortunately, they are all off to Poland for a convention that weekend, but they did send the Facebook invite to several people. One of these people read the Cinevue article that I put on the invite page and responded with the following questions:

Hi Victoria, Jewel invited me to your event, but unfortunately I can’t make it. If you don’t mind, I have questions here for you:

1. You said ““But I’d like to suggest that China needs Taiwan more than Taiwan needs China” –
a. What is your suggestion based on?
b. And when was the last time you travelled in China?
c. What is your observation or experience with China travelers in Taiwan? and when?

2. What is your view/observation of Sun Flower Student Movement? And how or if it had changed Taiwan’s political landscape?

3. Why do you think Taiwan’s Sun Flower Movement struggled to get ANY mention at all in New York, whereas Hong Kong Umbrella received instant headline in New York Times?

4. “just hearing people speaking Taiwanese openly was mind-blowing since all languages except Mandarin were banned during my childhood.” That is not true. But I don’t think you meant what you wrote, so what did you mean “all languages except Mandarin were banned”?

Actually this is a bit modified from her original personal message to me. I asked her to write it on the Facebook invite wall and make it public. In her original message, she wrote for Challenging Question #4, “Oh – that is definitely NOT true. ‘just hearing people speaking Taiwanese openly was mind-blowing since all languages except Mandarin were banned during my childhood.’ Where did the idea come from?”

This was a little more of a throwdown of the gauntlet.  I couldn’t help but copy & paste her question on the ALMOST HOME: TAIWAN Facebook page since it was rather astonishing to me that someone who identifies as Taiwanese (from Taiwan to boot) did not feel the repression against the language. A few other people in the Taiwan community have written responses and someone doing postgrad in the Netherlands sent me an erudite academic article in response to this lady. Besides wide anecdotal evidence, which perhaps other people will chime in with, here’s another academic essay on the Taiwanese language that mentions the ban in public settings. It’s even on Wikipedia, both in this article on Hokkien and this article on Censorship in Taiwan.

As far as I understand, the use of Taiwanese in public settings was part of the Criminal Acts Against Seditious Speech, which was revised in 1992. Correct me if I’m wrong (I’d really be interested in knowing!) but even if I were wrong about what was actually on the books, how free did people feel speaking the language when they grew up being humiliated and fined whenever they reverted to their native tongue?  I know my mother (who is a pretty good barometer of the general non-intelligentsia Taiwanese) believed that speaking Taiwanese in public was dangerous. If that’s not a ban of the language, I’m not sure what would be. I’m only going on and on about this since the politicization of language is a subject that’s close to my heart. It’s how I was first radicalized. It’s one of my first understandings of oppression. It’s impossible not to be outraged when your speech is shackled. As the Irish, Basques, Catalonians, Kurds, and Bangladeshis know. Read Ivan Illich’s amazing treatise Vernacular Values on how a grammar book was used to subjugate Spain in the late 1400s.

And in response to her other questions, and to her message in general, let me say this:

Katy,

I feel that perhaps since Taiwan issues are so buried, you aren’t used to anyone speaking about it publicly outside of an academic context. I’m an artist, not an academic or an economist or a political pundit. So I will naturally push boundaries and take some liberties. That said, of course, I’m careful what I say about Taiwan since I know it’s on public record. I’ve answered Question #4 above. As far as the other questions, without writing a 10 page essay, here are my responses:

1. Like most Taiwanese I don’t have that much contact with China. The first, last, and only time I was there was in 1997. I think I’m the first person in my family to visit China since the 1700s. It totally blew my mind how different China is from Taiwan – and how much the Cultural Revolution had been so internalized by everyone there. My statement in the Cinevue article is based on my experience of how the US outsources its industry to other places. In the last decade or so, Taiwan has similarly been outsourcing a lot of its industry to China. I haven’t gotten around to asking, but I think that the Taiwanese don’t have the same understanding of outsourcing that people in America have. I’m not even sure if there’s a word for “outsourcing” in Chinese. My little challenging statement just begs the question of who is really in power when industry is outsourced: The country on the receiving end of the outsourcing? Or the country that is doing the outsourcing?

2 & 3. The Sunflower Movement was terribly exciting and I think it’s shifted the political landscape in Asia in ways that are still unfolding. The interview  you are reacting to was conducted in 2012, so naturally there is no mention of the Sunflower Movement since it hadn’t yet occurred. I’ve just added a mention of the Sunflower Movement to the end of the film. You can see in in the latest cut on April 10th. And as far as why there is a media blackout on Taiwan (or brownout if you want to be more polite), well I think that’s obviously the hegemony at work for you. Hopefully, with this film, we can attract more people to join our parade and shout and sing and bang on pots and pans until the media is forced to pay attention.

Come catch the film on April 10th! or buttonhole me with more challenging questions at NATWA in San Diego and I’ll do my best to not put my foot my mouth. The more discussion the better, right?

Greetings from the Berlin Film Festival

So maybe it was rather crazy to move to London at the same time as prep for the European Film Market, but despite misplacing my keys and hat, I’m here in Berlin and having a very productive time.

Yesterday, I hit Meet the Distributors and got some positive responses from a few sales agents. A Swiss filmmaker and I got to be friends  and he was sticking around for a discussion with two emerging filmmakers mediated by the director of Visions du Reél, a documentary film festival based in a small Swiss town. The discussion came with drinks so I had a glass of wine and paid partial attention while combing through the film program and discovering that Jiang Wen has a new film premiering here. Wow, I thought, maybe I can meet Jiang Wen???! I hardly get celebrity fever, but Jiang Wen directed and starred in what I think is one of the best political films ever made. If you’ve never seen Devils on the Doorstep, do yourself a favor and see it now.

Somehow, after the discussion, me and the Swiss guy and a random assortment of other filmmakers (Colombian, British, Polish, German, Indian) ended up with the last five open bottles of wine. Then there was a party where the Polish guy who spoke Spanish and said he could salsa, really danced some strange variant of disco with a lot of backbends. I escaped at around 1AM.

This morning, I had a meeting with Visions du Reél. I had just gotten a rejection letter for the festival but ALMOST HOME was invited to be part of the Media Library. According to their email, “In 2014 the Media Library consisted of 382 films resulting to more than 5300 views.” But it costs about $100 so I needed some convincing. I also tried to get an appointment with Sheffield Film Festival, which is still considering the film, but they were all booked. The Meet the Docs people suggested that I hover and try to wedge myself in anyway.

So I got there early to helicopter around Sheffield and oh, look, there’s also the Hawaii International Film Festival and Seattle International Film Festival too. Pretty soon I was pacing hopefully back and forth between various tables, looking for an opportunity to slide into an empty chair.

Good thing I did. I managed to score a waiver from Hawaii and Seattle said they would consider the film even though I missed the deadline. The meeting with Visions du Reél was also really amazing. It turns out ALMOST HOME was shortlisted for the festival (damn it) but they had to winnow down 3,000 entries to about 100 films, so we didn’t make the final cut. But okay, I suppose being one of 400 chosen out of 3,000 films counts for something, right? And the director said they would really support the film by matchmaking it to likely distributors and film festivals. So I guess I’ll have to find $100 to pony up for the Media Library. And figure out how to do the color correction necessary prior to the festival.

Now to find me some lunch. There was a nice looking baked potato on the menu downstairs… And man do I need another cup of coffee.