From December 5 to 15, 2002, Taipei hosted nearly 60 international visitors from more than 20 countries at the biennial Taiwan International Documentary Festival (TIDF). This was the festival’s third edition, and judging by the caliber of the invited guests, it’s aiming to become a key stop on the international festival circuit.
Directors of such major world festivals as Korea’s Pusan International Film Festival (Kim Dong-Ho), Japan’s Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival (Kazuyuki Yano), Russia’s Moscow International Film Festival (Kirill Razlogov) and Paris, France’s Cinéma du Réel (Suzette Glenadel) lent their expertise to TIDF’s four panel sessions, as did programmers such as Nicole Fernandez Ferrer of France’s International Women’s Film Festival. The discussions held were ‘Various Topics on Public Television’; ‘The Trend of Asian Films from the Perspective of International Film Festivals’; ‘Digital Impact on the Future of Documentary Filmmaking’; and ‘The Spirit, Position and Management of Documentary Film Festivals’.
Unfortunately, the effectiveness of the panels was hampered by the lack of simultaneous translation. Despite the rapid and skillful summation, discussion ground to a halt while the translator updated the Mandarin- speaking audience. When a third language was introduced – for instance, ARTE commisioning editor Luciano Rigolini and Glenadel presented in French – the subsequent unwieldy French-to-Mandarin-to-English translation meant that much of the speaker’s original point was lost, like a child’s game of ‘broken telephone’.
International ambitions aside, the festival focused on strengthening and developing Taiwan’s own doc-making industry. The country’s film tradition dates back 100 years, with such fiction filmmakers as Tsai Ming-liang and Hou Hsiao-hsien earning international renown. The doc industry, however, is still in early development.
Taiwan’s political history (Japanese occupation for the first 45 years of the 20th century, Taiwanese martial law in the following 40) meant that most non-fiction films fell under the rubric of either news or propaganda. After martial law was abolished in 1987, the indie scene was no longer inhibited, and doc-makers were free to explore subjects that were previously off limits. Many of the docs that emerged were critical of Taiwanese government policies. For example, the 1988 film 520 Event, by a collective known as The Third Video, captured the discontent of Taiwanese farmers, which culminated in a march of 5,000 demonstrators on government offices. This doc and many others were screened in the Taiwanese retrospective program, ‘The Age of Rebellion in Taiwan’.
There was also a program of Taiwanese docs competing for the newly introduced Taiwan Award, which is intended to encourage local doc- makers. In addition, for those who came to Taiwan specifically to see what has been coming out of Asia, the festival showcased several Japanese and South Korean docs.
One characteristic of the festival programming was the dearth of films from the U.S. – notable because Hollywood films tend to dominate the box office here. Among those vying for awards in the international film competition were Danish filmmaker Sami Saif’s Family and Israeli doc-maker David Fisher’s Love Inventory, which both won merit prizes. The grand-prize winner was German director Stefan Tolz, for his film On the Edge of Time: Male Domains in the Caucasus.
Overall, this was a festival that worked hard to accommodate the needs of its guests. Its small size meant that parties could be held in a hotel suite at the Sheraton, increasing the likelihood of encountering the same person twice. The guest list was impressive, but the challenge for organizers of 2004′s event will be to entice them to return. ARTE’s Rigolini suggested that screening more premieres, especially quality Asian films, would give programmers and commissioning editors one such reason.