Indigenous Voices 2007

I just came back from the Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival in Taipei. Because of teaching I was only able to attend the first three days of the five-day event, but that short time was jam-packed with ethnotastic cinematic excitement.

This year’s theme was “indigenous voices,” and one of the highlights of the festival were select productions by Video in the Villages. The biggest crowd pleaser was “Marangmotxingmo Mirang, From the Ikpeng Children to the World,” a video letter in which children take the camera for a tour of their village and their way of life, but the dramatic retelling of a traditional folktale in “Imbé Gikegü, The Smell of Pequi Fruit” was almost as much fun.

The second most enjoyable film of the festival was Tobias Wendl’s Ghanaian Video Tales, which you can watch online. The documentary explores the contemporary Ghanian video industry, which has produced films like the Diabolo trilogy about a man who turns into a snake and then has sex with women who then vomit money for him. The third film, written while the star was in prison in Rotterdam for working illegally, features a white woman who vomits in a foreign currency. (He seemed quite fond of the Rotterdam prison which he said was like living in a hotel.)

There were lots of films about religion this year. Some of the highlights were:

On the Road With the Red God by Kesang Tseten, which follows the journey of “a 65-feet tall, unwieldy chariot across the Kathmandu Valley … The chariot teeters, as does the community, between chaos and order, conflict or solidarity.”

Ho Chao-ti’s 賀照緹 “The Gangster’s God炸神明 about a ritual in Southern Taiwan where gangsters strip to the waist, “and wearing nothing but red shorts, stand on a sacred palanquin, allowing people to pound their bodies with bottlerockets, singeing their skin.” One of the film’s “gangsters” (he’s now “in cement” as we say in New Jersey) came to the screening and was hilarious during the Q&A.

And Rui Yang’s 楊蕊 The Bimo Records 畢摩紀 was a visually stunning account of “the lives of three Bimo clergy of the Yi people” living in the mountains in Western China. Anthropologist Ho Ts’ui-p’ing gave an excellent discussion of the film, praising it for its ethnographic detail, while criticizing its failure to point out the various ways that the government is actively promoting Bimo culture.

Perhaps the most moving event was the double screening of two films about the same ritual:

Hu Tai-li and Lee Daw-ming’s (李道明) Songs of Pasta’ay (矮人際之歌), a study of the Pasta’ay ceremony of Taiwan’s Saisiat people, … [together] with Pas-taai: The Saisiat Ceremony in 1936 (巴斯達隘: 1936年的賽夏祭典) by Japanese anthropologist Nobuto Miyamoto, who was a professor at what was then the Taipei Imperial University (now National Taiwan University).

The two films portray the same ceremony, held by the same community, but fifty years apart. A number of Saisiat elders attended the screening and one recounted how the intervention of a Japanese anthropologist saved the ceremony when the Japanese planned on ending it in 1937.

Dan Alexe’s Cabal in Kabul is a sensitive portrayal of the last two Jews in Kabul (one of whom died while making the film). As was widely reported in the press, these two men did not get along. The film portrays them in a way that reminds one of an old couple who’ve hated each other so long they don’t even remember what started it in the first place. Dan Alexe had a hard time making the movie, having had to make it a second time after all his footage from the first trip was stolen. My parents lived in Afghanistan in the late sixties when things were quite different. This community was still vibrant, then, and they extended warm hospitality to my family. I also think it is worth adding that the Afghan community was always very hospitable to the Jews, who were considered fellow people “of the Book.”

I didn’t stick around long enough to see Futuru Tsai’s (蔡政良) Amis Hip Hop (阿美嘻哈) at the festival. But you can watch an old version of the film online.

Finally, I only had time to attend one of the many screenings of films by Mayaw Biho (馬躍比吼), whose work I use in my classes. You can read a nice profile of the filmmaker in the Taipei Times.

[Disclosure: DER, linked to above, also distributes one of my films.]