Screening of Film: “The Right Thing” with Q and A with Director Chiang Wei-hua
Date: 12 December 2013Time: 7:00 PM
Finishes: 12 December 2013Time: 10:00 PM
Venue: Russell Square: College BuildingsRoom: Khalili Lecture Theatre
Type of Event: Film
Chiang Wei-Hua, a freelance filmmaker, was born in Banqiao, Taiwan in 1976. He received his B.F.A. from the Department of Fine Arts at Tunghai University, and his Master degree from the Graduate Institute of Sound and Image Studies in Documentary, at Tainan National University of the Arts.
The Right Thing
In 1990 the Wild Lily Student Movement played an important role in Taiwan’s democratic transition. Eighteen years later a new student protest movement known as the Wild Strawberry Student Movement emerged in the same location. “The Right Thing” examines this new style of Taiwanese protest.
Synopsis of “The Right Thing”
In November 2008, a critical year in the history of modern Taiwan, Chen Yun-lin visited Taiwan as the first official Chinese envoy to step in Taiwan in sixty-years.
At the same time the freedom of speech and the personal liberty of the Taiwanese were severely suppressed by the state apparatus. Via social media, student protesters assembled to voice their anger. The students, in their twenties, engrossed in activism, schoolwork, active citizenship, politics, passion, and self-reflection, congregated on a square in Taipei. However, during the course of their struggle, suspicion arose among members of the student movement due to ideological differences and distrust.
Although the event is open to the public and free to all it is recommended that you contact Niki Alsford (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you plan to attend.
Director's Speech Script
"Good evening. I am very happy to have come to London, especially in a distinguished place like SOAS. I would like to thank SOAS and Dr. Fell, Dr. Chang, and Ministry of Culture Taiwan for giving me this opportunity. I would also like to thank you all for coming, for most dialogue in this film is in Mandarin Chinese.
This is a documentary I made on my own and finished 3 years ago, and The Wild Strawberry Movement has just passed its Fifth year anniversary. I will now speak to you as an independent director, to share some of the modest observations I have made with my limited memory.
Time, space, and my motivation
Now. I need you to picture yourself back in time, 2008. In Taiwan. Five years ago in Taiwan, the most common online communication was the MSN Messenger, and Bulletin Board System, which is also known as the BBS. In the very beginning, the movement began on the BBS. (They spread a statement on it) Almost nobody knew what Facebook was. Where they held the long sit-in, the Liberty Square, the internet signal was very bad. Smartphones were not common. I-Phone was a new thing. I have seen only one i-phone during the filming.
Mr. Ma Ying-jeou became the President that May. The former President Chen was charged for corruption. When the movement started, it was only half a year after the turnover of power. On November sixth, students began a quiet sit-in in front of Executive Yuan. That night in Taipei, on the other hand, witnessed the biggest police-civilian conflict in a decade. It's a year like this.
I learned about the protest of student on TV by chance. That’s when the students have moved from Executive Yuan to the Liberty Plaza. Therefore, I actually started filming this documentary from the Liberty Square. However, a few days before this movement, I have already felt that the streets of Taipei have become very unusual. I mean after Chen Yunlin came to Taipei, the police went inside a record store and turned off the music (because it's too loud and gathered the crowd). They took away National flags from people’s hands (as you've just seen in the film). They questioned and detained walk-by people for no reason. Those incidents troubled me in a fundamental way. I felt they were challenging my understanding of being a “free man”. That has little to do with any public issue or political stance. They were telling me, very directly, that something bad is happening.
After four days of the students sit-in at the Square, I went in with my camera for the first time. Simply taking pictures. I was just curious at what they were doing. After two or three days, I discovered that, although there were TV news reporters and cameras, but no one was documenting the scene regularly. On one hand, I supported the cause, but since I wasn’t a student anymore, I was thinking what I could do for the movement. In the end, I decided to document something for them.(That might be the only thing I can do well for sure at that time) So I started to bring my film camera to the scene, and let them know who I were and what I was doing. But I didn’t feel like I really was making a documentary film until like 2 weeks later.
Creative process and mission
I was never consider myself a social movement documentary director. I wasn’t one on the Square, and I still don’t feel like one now. Prior to making this film, I did go to a few demonstrations, but I have always felt distant. For example, I didn’t even know what the Wild Lily Movement was when I was filming on the Square.
Before “The Right Thing”, my documentaries were far from mainstream. I have filmed skateboarders, online gamers, and overseas Taiwanese students. They were all about sub-cultures of young people. I was trying to understand all kinds of young minds and growing experience. So, when I took the film camera to the Square, the first question I asked myself is: What story do I want to tell?
Then I saw many faces, young and confused faces, although they looked self-assured when they faced the crowd and the media most of time. They used a weak red plastic rope, the cheap ones we used to wrap groceries in Taiwan. They used these red ropes and trapped themselves in the heart of Taipei. With great anxiety, they tried to talk to this society, or to each other, or to themselves. I also found that a lot of them were very good students, who always scored high in exams, top in classes. In my experience, I’ve rarely seen those kinds of students with such helpless and unsure faces. I felt this place was very special. Anybody, at any time, could come and change this place. Everyday I spent there, I could not imagine what would happen the next day.
That’s when I realized, I was not really interested in documenting a social movement. Just like before, I was still filming about the story of young people. Only this time, these people are far from school, and face the real world too early.
Therefore, what they have to face, or to imagine, became what I care about. For these people in their twenties. I want to know how much force they could take under that gate, What they can transform that force into and what will be left of them. That’s the most important thing for me.
The narrative technique
After filming for two or three weeks, I began to picture it as a documentary, including a decision I made to myself, that I won’t stop filming until the day the last one left the plaza.
This movement has a strong sense of the streets, very rough, very real time, very lively. Therefore, I’ve also decided, that if I were to make any interview, they all have to be on the scene. The interviews can’t be done in hindsight, where they can reconstruct their thoughts. That’s how I think I can capture a more realistic, a more honest moment that tells these people’s characters and states of mind. This also explains the hand-held camera, and lack of background soundtrack. However, in order to help pushing the plot, I put a more neutral and non-judgmental narrator in the background.
Yes, unlike most documentaries, I’ve decided to have no description of anyone. I felt it didn’t mean much. There were a lot of people talking to the camera, most were brief. A description will too much for the viewer to take. The second reason, is about the realness. I hope to mimic the atmosphere of the public forum there. It was much like an internet forum, in person. Anyone can “log in”, grab the microphone and talk. Some people know the speaker, most of them don’t. People from all walks of life come in, talk, and vote. If you like the way it goes, you stay. If you don’t, you leave. That kind of anonymity, dynamic, unorganized, or deliberately unorganized nature, is a special feature of this movement. However, out of respect, I put the people’s names in the end credit list.
On reception and the future
After this film is completed, I started to tour around Taiwan and show it in college campuses. I’ve also invited some Wild Strawberries themselves for the showing. But most of them told me they were afraid to watch it. They said this movement has traumatized them. At first I didn’t understand what that trauma is. Of course, it was kind of sad in the movement’s end, but a long and lasting trauma? Is it that serious? Then I slowly realized, that it all has to do with Taiwan’s history and political reality. These youngsters have only learned the knowledge in books. But they had to fight for a simple cause over what’s right or wrong, and deal with it with their bodies. Then, they clash, they have a collision with the cruel reality.
But I was happy that, when I actually showed this film, they still showed up. After that, some of them started to look back on this experience, writing articles and blogs, and revisit the legacy of this movement. Therefore I will continue with this topic and project. Because this film “Do the Right Thing” has not solved my puzzle. Like I said earlier, if I want to know what the movement has done to these people, besides the traumatic memory, I can only wait for time to tell me more.
After the Wild Strawberry
I wouldn’t call this film “a documentary on a social movement”. But indeed, I have not left the people and the network of the social movement, and I have kept my interest in them.
After this film, I have documented some of the Wild Strawberries on and off. I have also got to know the “Post-Wild Strawberry” generation students.
During the Wild Strawberry Movement, the students were afraid of “organization”, worried about being discredited, and were against the idea of a student leader, or a charismatic star from rising. But in the past five years, Taiwan continued to witness even more human rights violations, and state oppressions, things like Dapu enclosure (2010), Anti-Beauty Shore Hotel, Anti-Kuokuang Petrochemical, Anti-Media Monopoly (2012), Shilin Wang Family (2012), Huakuang Community (2013), Dapu Chang Pharmacy (2013), and so on.
These various cases of state oppressions have given rise to more campus-wide student activist clubs and more social movement groups to strengthen and seek solidarity.
Among these new generations of student activists, we also see some old Wild Strawberry faces. Chen Weiting, who was a high school boy in 2008. Or Lin Feifan, who was a Wild Strawberry in Tainan, are all now important figures in the new student movements. Things come and go very fast. The way these younger generation see movement is also different. They were quick to decide that organization and networking was the most important thing. Although they still care very much of the “society’s perception”, but they are also better at using media to their advantage. Social network like facebook has been popularized in Taiwan since 2009. It has also helped social activists greatly. They share information and discuss issues. This has made the social movements very responsive, active and robust.
Instead of saying that the Wild Strawberry indirectly started the robust development of the social movement in Taiwan in the past five years, we could say that it is an inevitable result of the time and consequences. I would say that, five years ago, at a special point in time, the people who decided to walk out the door to the plaza, became the beginning of a new wave, and planted the seeds for a new generation of social movement."
Organiser: Centre of Taiwan Studies
Contact email: email@example.com
Sponsor: The Understanding Taiwan through Film and Documentary Screening Series is supported by the Ministry of Culture’s Spotlight Taiwan Programme. Special Thanks to Dr. Samuel Yin for his generous support to the Spotlight Taiwan Programme.