Establish Special Taiwanese Characteristics:
Allow Genuine Creativity to Thrive
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 2, 2012
Summary: The government commands vast resources. It has the ability and the responsibility to encourage investment in films with uniquely Taiwanese characteristics. The private sector will naturally chase after fads, and pander to consumers. Fads are highly visible. Everyone notices them. Many chase after them. There is no need for government to do so. The government should provide a more elevated perspective and broader horizons. It should offer a vision of the future that competes with market fads. It should enable true creativity to bloom and thrive on Taiwan.
Full Text below:
Hou Hsiao-hsien has created a very special film aesthetic. He always uses medium distance shots and a stationary camera to tell his story. This style of movie narrative has attracted admirers from around the world. He has many imitators within the international film scene.
But if we examine Hou's "style" closely, and attempt to discern its source, certain factors become apparent. Taiwan is an impoverished and unfeeling environment for film makers. We lack actors who can withstand the gaze of the lens close-up. We lack sufficient funds and studios large enough to provide directors with adequate production values.
In other words, Hou Hsiao-hsien's achievement was the result of his understanding of the crippling constraints imposed upon him by local conditions on Taiwan. He is painfully aware of these constraints. In order to cope with reality and make up for his lack of resources, he was forced to create a unique artistic language.
Imagine a film buff with Hou's talent. Suppose he or she ignores this harsh reality. Suppose he or she decides to shoot a Hollywood style blockbuster, or a low-keyed drama rooted in English theater. He or she would invest much effort but suffer only setbacks. In the end, he or she would probably wind up with a mediocre, amateurish, and underwhelming product.
Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" is being shot on Taiwan. But everything from the capital, to the talent, to the technology, is from Hollywood. Apart from a few local soap operas, most TV shows on Taiwan are shot on the Mainland. This is a reality we cannot ignore. These are facts we cannot deny. The soil for the film and television industry on Taiwan is barren. How can we expect our movies to offer anything fresh? How can we expect Taiwan films to compete within Chinese film circles for the Golden Horse Award? How can we expect them to achieve excellence and dazzle audiences?
DPP legislators have suggested that the Golden Horse Awards be restricted. Only Taiwanese films would be eligible for consideration. Then one could be sure that the winner was a "Taiwanese film." But would such a Golden Horse Award do anything to nurture Taiwan's film industry?
The problem is not that Taiwan films lose to others. The problem is that our society and government lacks discernment. They are unwilling to encourage people of ability who really could win. They rush to judgment, based on simplistic criteria. Few people realize that over the years, Taiwan's documentary film output has outpaced its dramatic film output. Taiwan has a new breed of film and television documentary makers who have accepted their fate. They know they lack talented actors, well-written scripts, and sufficient funding. They lug their cameras up to the mountains and down to the sea. They tell their stories in the documentary format. Over the past fifteen to twenty years, they have created a uniquely Taiwanese style of documentary syntax, performance, and editing.
An unsound system has kept Taiwan's public television network from ever playing a truly public role. PTV has a limited budget. But over the years, it was enough to nurture these documentary film makers. It gave birth to many outstanding documentaries that inspired an autonomous community of documentary film makers.
Current documentary films from Taiwan are far superior to documentary films from Hong Kong and the Mainland. They are in no way inferior to documentaries from other countries. Unfortunately, most people do not know or care about these achievements. Our legislators do not know, and care even less.
These documentaries have been outstanding successes. Why has the government not given them more attention? Why has the government not proposed a film industry development strategy based on this as a foundation? It has guided and backed dramatic films. Why not use documentary film narrative to gradually blaze a trail for dramatic film narrative?
Taiwan's predicament is largely the result of a lack of insight and a lack of self-esteem. Many people, including central and local government officials, lack the patience to understand these diverse fields. They habitually adopt external standards. They apply them haphazardly. How can they accurately perceive Taiwan? We are not the United States. We are not Hong Kong or the Mainland. What we need is a Taiwan film industry policy tailored to our specific conditions. We do not need to chase after fads.
The government commands vast resources. It has the ability and the responsibility to encourage investment in films with uniquely Taiwanese characteristics. The private sector will naturally chase after fads, and pander to consumers. Fads are highly visible. Everyone notices them. Many chase after them. There is no need for government to do so. The government should provide a more elevated perspective and broader horizons. It should offer a vision of the future that competes with market fads. It should enable true creativity to bloom and thrive on Taiwan.
Instead, government at all levels on Taiwan throw money at New Year's Eve Celebrations. They flagrantly copy each other. As a result the festivities lack uniqueness. Those who expect the public sector to play the role of creative mentor, may have a long wait ahead of them.