2020 Taiwan Documentary Film Festival

The Taiwan Documentary Film Festival 2020 has been successfully staged from November 13 to 22. This time focusing on Taiwan’s Indigenous Peoples, the festival programme featured four documentaries provided by the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute: 

"Where Has the Land Gone?" (土地到哪裏去了?) and "The Story of the Rainbow" ("彩虹的故事2) by our “guest director”  and Atayal social activist Pilin Yapu 比令亞布, presenting and reflecting on problems of preserving the foundations of authentic indigenous existence in Taiwan: land and culture, “Coming Home” (“回家”, 2018) by Huang Shu-mei 黃淑梅 about cultural preservation through education and “The Mountain” (“靈山”) by Su Hung-En 蘇弘恩 depicting the live of the directors Atayal grandfather and contrasting it with Japanese and R.O.C. discourse on aboriginals life from archival film material. 

The films could be streamed online individually upon registering for participation. 

“The Mountain” was also discussed in the festival official opening, a guest lecture by Prof. Kerim Friedman from the Department of Ethnic Relations and Cultures of the College of Indigenous Studies at National Dong Hwa University, Hualien, Taiwan, on “Space, Time, and Indigeneity in Contemporary Taiwanese Documentary Film” on Monday, November 16, which made for a wonderful start. 

Although he could not be physically present in Tübingen, guest director Pilin Yapu joined us online on Friday, November 20, 2020, to discuss his films with the audience. 

Fascinating was also how he talked about his mission as an educator for indigenous children and more generally about the current situation of indigenous life in Taiwan. We could not have hoped for a more lively and interesting finish and once more express our gratitude to all who contributed to and participated in the event, last but not least the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute for providing the excellent documentaries. 

Programme Flyer

Programme TDFF 2020

Opening Session: Talk with Prof. Kerim Friedman - Monday, Nov. 16, 12:30 - 13:45 CET on Zoom

Space, Time, and Indigeneity in Contemporary Taiwanese Documentary Film


This talk explored the shifting representations of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples in films by indigenous and non-indigenous directors alike. Drawn from over sixty films in the archives of the Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival (TIEFF), these films offer a snapshot of the changes in how indigenous personhood has been constructed in Taiwanese documentary films going back to the end of the martial law era. The films are grouped into three overarching Bakhtinian chronotopes, each of which uses indigenous identities to highlight different relations between Taiwan’s past, present, and future, as well as different spatial relations following from those choices. The first chronotope highlights the Japanese colonial encounter with indigenous peoples. The second the continuity between ancient Austronesian culture and the present. And the third focuses on encounters between indigenous people and the modern Taiwanese state. Films were compared within and across these chronotopes to reflect on the shifting nature of indigenous personhood in Taiwan, tracing the way these chronotopes have adapted to shifts in Taiwan’s wider political economic framework. Finally, the talk turned to the work of two young indigenous filmmakers whose films draw on oral histories to transcend all three chronotopes. Salone Ishahavut’s “Alis’s Dreams” (2011) and Su Hung-En’s “The Mountain” (2015), each formulates a unique indigenous “voice” to call for indigenous sovereignty over their own destiny. 

Prof. Kerim Friedman lives and teaches in Taiwan where he is an associate professor in the Department of Ethnic Relations and Cultures (within the College of Indigenous Studies), at National Dong Hwa University in Hualien. Trained in both linguistic and visual anthropology, he has worked extensively with indigenous Taiwanese and with India's Denotified and Nomadic Tribes (DNTs). And he is also a documentary filmmaker himself. His latest film, Please Don’t Beat Me, Sir!, was awarded the 2011 Jean Rouch Award for Collaborative Filmmaking from the Society of Visual Anthropology.


土地到哪裡去了?Where Has the Land Gone? - Pilin Yapu 1997, 34 min.

Mabanan is an Atayal settlement in Miaoli County, where the filmmaker was born. During the Japanese colonial rule of Taiwan, most of the indigenous community's land was seized and registered as state-owned forest. Later, the Kuomintang (KMT) government imposed even more restrictions on the use of the land. How would the Mabanan community reclaim their homeland when the government still refused to recognise proofs of residence of their ancestors?

The director himself comments: 

My initial goal was to record the diminishing Atayal culture and pass down the legacy through moving images, but after further investigation, I discovered that the extensive loss of land was a even more serious issue among my people. When I was young, my grandfather proudly pointed out a piece of land and said to me: "Look, Pilin! Over there is the land passed down from our Atayal ancestors." My grandfather's words and our community elders' hopes were my greatest support through difficult times. This documentary only highlights the problems, but the eventual solutions must come from my people's efforts.

(Source: TaiwanDocs at https://docs.tfi.org.tw/en/film/4612)

彩虹的故事 Stories of the Rainbow - Pilin Yapu 1998, 55 min.

In the legends of the Atayal people, it is said that the souls of the dead use rainbows to travel to heaven. However, there is no way through the rainbow for a person without facial tattoos, which are examined by the souls of their forefathers. This documentary film asks Atayal elders, who tattoo their faces in preparation, what they think of this practice. Visiting various tribes, the director portrays the elders' everyday life in the mountains and shows how deeply they long for lost family members, friends and their homeland, as well as their feelings about their own impending journey towards the rainbow.

Adapted from https://www.tieff.org/en/films/the-stories-of-rainbow/

靈山 The Mountain - Su Hung-En 2015, 73 min.

In his first full-length documentary film, Su Hung-En, who himself is of half-aboriginal and half-Han-Taiwanese descent, tells the life story of his maternal grandfather Teymu Teylong. A hunter from the Truku-Tribe in Hualien, he relates how he grew up, married, had children and worked to earn a living for his family as a farmer, later in a deep-sea fishing crew and then in construction. The narrative is interwoven with documents and footage from Taiwan’s 20th century experience of colonization and decolonization. With quietly elegant photography, Su follows his grandfather through his daily life in the mountain village and surrounding forests to show the conditions and difficulties of present-day aboriginal life in Taiwan.

(Source: The Newslens https://www.thenewslens.com/article/103012)

回家 Coming Home - Huang Shu-mei 2018, 99 min.

“Coming Home”, directed by Shu-Mei Huang, is about a group of middle-aged Paiwan and Rukai aborigines in Pingtung County, and their effort to deal with the gradual disappearance of indigenous culture and how they seek to hand this culture down to the next generations. The film reminds its audience of the importance of cultural preservation in education and captures these young adults’ passion and love for their homeland. 

Adapted from South Taiwan Film Festival: http://festival.south.org.tw/2223823478.html

Q & A with Guest Director Pilin Yapu 比令 亞布, Friday, Nov. 20, 12:30 to 13:45 p.m. CET

From his early child-hood, when he grew up in the tribal village of Mapihaw in Miaoli County, Pilin Yapu was deeply influenced by the teachings in traditional culture of his maternal grandfather. From the Atayal ethos of the forefathers to the hunters’ wisdom, he inherited the cultural thinking of his tribe, exactly as he claims “I am Atayal”. But following the impact of the educational system of mainstream society, he returned to his tribe in the early 1990s and from then on continuously engaged in cultural revitalization and documentary filmmaking. He founded the Atayal Beishi-Community Cultural Studio together with Baunay Watan and Yuma Taru in order to do research into the cultural history of the tribe and to pass on traditional weaving techniques, and he took part in the Training Project for Local Documentary Film Makers, from where his career in documentary film making unfolded. He uses documentary films to change and promote social movements, and tours over 300 villages in Taiwan with his work on Atayal ancestral sacrifices, thereby prompting many tribes to revive their own ceremonial traditions. 
Today, besides working as documentary film maker and aboriginal activist, Pilin Yabu is founder and headmaster of the P'uma-Indigenous-Experimental Primary School, the first of its kind in Taiwan.