— Taiwan Film Festival Edinburgh (@TaiwanFFE) September 18, 2020
For a nomadic festival like the Taiwan Film Festival, Edinburgh, a move to digital in light of the ongoing pandemic could have resulted in an event untethered to a specific place. But with screenings now happening online between 18th and 27th September, its organisers still hope to be able to present physical screenings to Scottish audiences later in the year.
For Chief Curator Liu Kuan-Ping though, the decision to keep the festival tied to the city is based on reasons more personal than just future screening plans.
‘I have lived in Edinburgh for 5 years now’, she says. ‘I am always amazed by how diverse and open the local audience are. People are willing to try new things, to experience different cultures through the Fringe, EIFF, and most importantly, the thriving indie film scene.’ Kuan-Ping has previously singled out cinemas such as Edinburgh’s Filmhouse as one of the few venues where Taiwan’s rich, 60-year library of cinematic offerings have started to be shown inside the UK, and is excited about the conversations that she feels a cultural exchange between the voices of Scotland and Taiwan’s filmmakers can encourage:
‘Due to the political and historical complications in post-war East Asia, Taiwan has been in a tricky place in that our national identity is being challenged continuously. It might seem subtle in the Festival programme, but you can see there is a theme of seeking identity and reliving the golden era of Taiwanese film industry. Similarly, national identity has been a widely discussed topic in Scotland in recent years. I hope that, through the screenings and the accompanying events, more young filmmakers and curators will be inspired to discover and discuss the history and identity of Scotland through cinema.’
Elaborating on national identity, she points to The Mountain, a documentary which uses archive footage to show how Taiwan’s indigenous people have come a long way to fight for their rights and their identity.
A nation of numerous cultures and languages, it’s only in the last 30 or so years that Taiwan’s government has begun to value first-language education. Through this education, younger generations are finally learning to appreciate their cultural heritage. Documentaries and shorts constitute just two strands of a line-up that depicts the country’s political, societal and cultural fluctuations throughout the last six decades.
Taiwanese Hokkien-Language cinema includes three classic titles from the 1960s: The Bride Who Has Returned from Hell, Six Suspects, and Husband’s Secret.
Also referred to as ‘Hoklo-language’, the term is used to differentiate the films from Taiwan’s Mandarin output, as well as other countries’ own Hokkien-language cinema such as Hong-Kong’s Amoydialect films that were introduced in Taiwan following the end of the country’s Japanese period. In a prosperous four-year period between 1965 and 1969, more than 400 films were produced in practically every genre – detective, thriller, musical, comedy, romance, and fantasy.
Historically tied with Hoklo-language films is also a propensity for subjects considered taboo for those in the Mandarin-language industry, which demonstrates the way that language and culture are inextricably tied. As such, it would be a shame, agrees Kuan- Ping, for these films to be dubbed (rather than subtitled) and to thus lose the cultural context that speech can bring to a character.
Yet a growing shift toward phones and tablets, on which subtitles are ill-served, highlights the importance of the festival’s proposed physical presentations on big screens later in the year.
The remaining selections include: A Borrowed Hong Kong, The Imagined China in Taiwan, and Transregional Cinema, this last film featuring the iconic 1970s anthology Four Moods; Melodrama Divas. This celebrates films based on the romance novels of Chiung Yao, the author with quite possibly the greatest influence to the romance genre in the Chinese-speaking world; and Taiwan New Cinema and its Legacy, amongst others.
The festival is primarily funded by Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture. In collaboration with The Scottish Documentary Institute, there will also be a series of Q&As and panel discussions with featured filmmakers from Monday 21st September.