Someone asked me for a list of five documentary films for an online anthropology publication, but the piece never got published so I’m sharing it here. I decided to choose is a list of five films from Taiwan which I think would be particularly interesting for anthropologists. I’ve tried to select a variety of film styles: one fiction film by an indigenous Taiwanese filmmaker (Finding Sayon), two ethnographic films made by Taiwanese anthropologists (Returning Souls and Amis Hip-hop), a documentary by an indigenous activist (What’s Your Family Name, Please?), and an observational documentary (Yellow Box).
Yellow Box looks at the world of “Betel nut beauties” (scantily clad women who sell betel nuts to passing drivers) but manages to avoid being exploitative by pointing the camera so the gaze is primarily on the customers.
Finding Sayon is fictional account of a film crew visiting the village where a famous Japanese-era story, The Bell of Sayon (about an Aborigine girl who sacrificed her life for her Japanese teacher) took place. [Yes, I know this means it isn’t really a list of 5 documentaries – but this film is definitely of interest. We even had a review of it here on Savage Minds.]
Returning Souls is the latest film by famed Taiwanese ethnographic filmmaker Hu Tai-li and follows efforts to repatriate an artifact from an ethnographic museum back to an Aborigine village; except, instead of returning the artifact itself, they build a replica of the artifact and take the spirits home to inhabit the replica.
Amis Hip-hop (for which an older cut of the film is available online) documents how one Aborigine village is incorporating new music into a traditional ceremony.
And What’s Your Family Name, Please? is a Michael Moore-esque look at the implementation of a law which allows Aborigines to register under their indigenous names instead of the Chinese names they were forced to use previously.
There are obviously many other great films. Here I tried to focus on films by Taiwanese filmmakers. For more, I recommend looking through the catalog of the Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival. Only a portion of those films are about Taiwan, but they do include a few good ones every year.