The Taipei Cultural Center in New York is pleased to co-present a special series featuring Taiwan’s experimental films from the 1960s with Lightbox Film Center in Philadelphia and Anthology Film Archives in New York Oct. 17-21, 2018.
Taiwan in the 1960s was a nation marked by a repressive political climate, a heavily restricted flow of information, and a mainstream film culture that was dominated by Taiyupian (Taiwanese-language cinema) and what came to be known as “healthy realist” melodramas. Nevertheless, young Taiwanese intellectuals, who had become aware of the Western avant-garde movement through writings and translations, were eager to align themselves with the innovations of their counterparts in the West. They formed for themselves a concept of what the “avant-garde” could look like and carried out their own experiments with film and theater.
This year’s edition of the Taiwan International Documentary Festival featured a special series showcasing films from the 1960s by some of the most daring and creative artists in Taiwan. A large number of these experimental works have not been preserved, yet traces have been found and periodically studied, and gradually the 1960s has come to be known as an era of vanguard cultural activity in Taiwan. The TIDF curatorial team conducted an exhaustive search for all the films of that period. They reached out to the surviving artists (now all in their seventies or eighties), interviewed those in Hong Kong and Western art circuits who worked or were in contact with their Taiwanese counterparts, and pored through every issue of the Theatre Quarterly 劇場雜誌, the magazine that played a pivotal role in advocating the latest developments in the Western art world by dedicating more than 90% of its pages to translations of new European and American works. A rough sketch of the 1960s film experiments gradually took shape. In May, the TIDF presented this special series in Taipei, with some titles screening publicly for the first time since their completion half a century ago.
The TIDF team went the extra mile to search for evidence of lost films made in the 1960s, eventually putting together a filmography of 34 titles. These works collectively represent a sudden surge in creative energy and can be seen as a reflection of the unique zeitgeist of the 1960s. Moreover, the formal diversity of these works challenged the definition of the cinema, and also sketched out the rough edges of the generation’s own sense of modern film. These five programs bring the fruits of the TIDF team’s efforts to the United States for the first time! Program Director of the TIDF, Mr. Wood Lin, will be present to give pre-screening introduction.
The series will meet local audiences for the first time at Lightbox Film Center Oct. 17-19 and then at Anthology Film Archives Oct. 19-21.
Program A: Richard Yao-chi Chen’s Student Films, 1963-1966 陳耀圻的短片習作
Born in Sichuan, China, in 1938, Richard Yao-chi Chen moved to Taiwan in 1945 where he studied architecture before relocating to the U.S. He attended the Chicago Art Institute and received his MA in film studies from UCLA in 1967, and then returned to Taiwan to embark on a successful filmmaking career in the Chinese-speaking world. This program features four films Chen made while studying at UCLA. The Archer 后羿 is a hand-drawn animation of the Chinese folktale “Houyi Shoots Down the Suns” 后羿射日. Through the Years 年去年來 touches on the theme of Westward expansion by combining facts with fiction. A film about three college students, The Mountain 上山 employs a modernist narrative to reflect young people’s longing for freedom in the 1960s. The original copy of this short lay forgotten in a UCLA professor’s garage for decades and was digitally restored by the Taiwan Film Institute in 2017. Liu Pi-Chia 劉必稼, a biographical documentary depicting the life of a veteran who joined tens of thousands of others to work on national infrastructure construction projects in the 1960s, is considered Taiwan’s first cinéma vérité film.
Program B: Experimental Shorts from the 1960s
This program presents films by five key figures, including filmmaker Pai Ching-jui 白景瑞(1931-97), painter Han Hsiang-ning 韓湘寧(born 1939), photographer Chuang Ling 莊靈 and Chang Chao-tang 張照堂, and designer Long Sih-liang 龍思良(1937-2012). While the movement was short-lived these filmmakers went on to become well-established artists in their own disciplines. Pai, the first person from Taiwan to study film in Italy, built his reputation making classic melodramas and literary adaptations. Han, still active today, is a noted painter, while Chuang and Chang are two highly respected photographers in Taiwan, and Long created many memorable visual designs for films and books.
The works in this program were either made as silent films or suffered damage to their soundtracks. This screening will be accompanied by a live musical performance by sound artist C. Spencer Yeh.
Program C: Experimental Shorts from the 1960s
This program includes five films by artists who were indirectly involved in the 1960s artistic experiments. The Theater Quarterly did not just serve as a medium bringing in latest news on the Western art world, but also functioned as a platform for artists to present their new creations. Macao-born, Hong Kong based film critic Law Kar 羅卡 and Hong Kong’s renowned writer Xi Xi 西西 both had briefly served as editor of Theatre Quarterly in the 1960s and made experimental films at that time which are included in this program. In addition, Tom Davenport, an American independent filmmaker, spent years studying the Chinese language and culture in Taiwan, was commissioned by National Geographic to film there. This program includes his first documentary T’ai Chi Ch’uan in which he captured the philosopher Nan Huai-chin 南懷瑾 practicing Tai-chi at Taiwan's northeastern coast.
The last two shorts provide an indirect view of the artistic achievements of Huang Hua-cheng 黃華成, a pivotal figure who co-founded Theater Quarterly and spearheaded the 1960s’ experimental movement in theater, film, and visual art. As none of Huang's video works have survived, the video documentation of the 1994 seminar "Theater Quarterly and I"「劇場與我」座談會, in which Huang played his 1967 experimental work Experiment 002 in the original 8mm format, allows us to have a peek of his original work, whereas The Prophet is a video remake of Huang’s first attempt in experimental theater.
Program D: The Mountain + I Didn’t Dare Tell You 不敢跟你講
Mou Tun-fei 牟敦芾, 1969, 78 min, 35mm-to-digital. In Chinese with English subtitles.
Born in China in 1941, Mou Tun-fei moved to Taiwan in 1949. He declared that cinema would be his lifework when he was still an art college student. I Didn't Dare to Tell You and The End of the Track, both included in this series, are the only two feature lengths he made in Taiwan and are among the nation’s first independent titles. Both films were not released for unknown reasons, though rumor has it that the realistic depiction of the stifling society in I Didn’t Dare to Tell You and the hint of homosexuality in The End of the Track could be the causes. Discouraged by the setback, Mou spent the following years travelling in Europe and South America before working in Hong Kong for Shaw Brothers Pictures 邵氏電影. He then became known for making bloody, gory films.
In this film, a primary school student secretly works a night job to pay off his father's gambling debts, and as a result constantly dozes off during classes in the day. When the teacher investigates, a series of family disputes ensue.
Only a small number of people saw the film at private screenings upon its completion, still, its realism style spurred discussion among viewers. One reel of the film’s original 35mm copy has lost, and this only available complete copy has an abrupt, inconsistent ending that’s considered a modification by the government to serve as propaganda. This is Mou's first film after graduating from college. The script was written by Huang Gui-rong 黃貴蓉; some say it was adapted from the children’s novel Cuore (Heart) by Edmondo de Amicis.
Proceded by The Mountain (1966, Richard Yao-chi Chen).
Program E: The End of the Track 跑道終點
Mou Tun-fei 牟敦芾, 1970, 91 min, 35mm-to-digital. In Chinese with English subtitles.
Tong and Yong-sheng are inseparable playmates, but when Yong-sheng dies in a training accident with Tong present, Tong feels heartbroken and guilt-ridden. Since both families fail to understand him, and burdened by the solitude after losing his best friend, Tong falls into a downward spiral. At the time, this film was banned due to its homosexual overtones. Some felt that certain segments drew comparison with the short story The Noodle Stall 麵攤 by Chen Ying-zhen 陳映真, a key figure of Taiwan’s 1960s literary movement who was imprisoned twice for “subversive activity.”
Lightbox Film Center (3701 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104)
Wed., Oct. 17 7:00pm Program A + B (Program B with live score performance by Jeff Zeigler and Sarah Schimeneck)
Thu., Oct. 18 7:00pm Program D
Fri., Oct. 19 6:00pm Program C
Fri., Oct. 19 8:00pm Program E
Anthology Film Archives (32 2nd Ave., New York, NY 10003)
Fri., Oct. 19 7:45pm Program A
Sat., Oct. 20 5:30pm Program C
Sat., Oct. 20 8:00pm Program D
Sun., Oct. 21 5:15pm Program E
Sun., Oct. 21 8:00pm Program B (with live musical performance by C. Spencer Yeh)