Taiwan International Documentary Festival honors Myanmar filmmakers

Closing ceremony of TIDF festival New Taipei. Photo by Filip Noubel, used with permission.

Taipei hosted the 14th edition of the Taiwan International Documentary Festival (TIDF) this month, an event that showcases over 200 movies with a focus on Myanmar, Ukraine, and Taiwan’s own history of documentary filmmaking. 

The 2024 edition, which ran from May 10–19, presented close to 140 movies from Taiwan and from a variety of countries, from Madagascar to Ukraine, Mali, Palestine, Argentina, Paraguay, and many Asian countries. The festival held in Taipei has taken place every two years since 1998, thanks to the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute (TFAI). It underwent a five-year pause from 2019 to 2024 due to the COVID-19 pandemic for international guests who couldn't fly to the island. 

This time it returned with a grand opening and the newly completed TFAI building and theater, located in New Taipei, a new urban development area in the northwest of Taipei that officials hope will attract more cultural events and institutions, as it remains a mostly residential area. 

Considered one of the top documentary festivals in Asia, TIDF has chosen “Re-encountering reality” as its main theme, which includes archival material from Taiwan’s own documentary film tradition, films by and about Taiwan’s Indigenous people, and a profile of production from Myanmar and Ukraine. 

As Wood Lin (林木材), program director of the festival interviewed by Global Voices, explains:

再見真實,意思是:根真實說再見,Good bye 但另外一個意思是:再次見到,所以英文用:re-encountering reality來顯示一個雙重性,就是紀錄片裡的真實可以怎樣的去思考。那這個主題呢,是在2014年的時候我們重新給影展的核心命題,所以從2014年到現在大概是10年都是在用這個主題在做主要的策展。

In Chinese, 再見真實, can mean saying goodbye to reality, but in Chinese, Good bye literally means “see you again” so we went in English with “re-encountering reality” that shows a duality, that is, how we should approach reality in documentaries. We redesigned the core proposition of TIDF in 2014, and from then on, we have been using this theme as the main curatorial lenses for about 10 years.

The main winner of the festival — awarded three prizes, including the Special Jury Prize is the movie “Taman-Taman/公園” (which means parks in Indonesian and Chinese). It tells the story of two Indonesian poets meeting in a park in Tainan, Taiwan’s main city in the south and often considered Taiwan’s cultural and literary capital, to recycle what they experience during the day into poetry at night. The filmmaker, So Yo-hen (蘇育賢), is from Tainan where he studied arts before starting his filming career. Here is the trailer for his documentary:

​​Taiwan relies heavily on domestic workers and other economic migrants to sustain its aging population and expanding economy, sectors where Indonesians take the lead ahead of workers from Vietnam and the Philippines. Despite difficult conditions of exploitation, Indonesians living in Taiwan find ways to express their experience through art, including literature or music

Finally, the Grand Prize in the International Competition was awarded to the Argentinian movie “El Juicio” (The Trial) by Ulises de la Orden, which exposes the 1985 trial of the leaders of the 1976–1983 military dictatorship as well as the testimonies of its victims. Here is its trailer:

Spotlight on Myanmar 

This year’s edition presented a large collection of documentaries from and about Myanmar, showcasing the need to not let Myanmar slip from the attention of global audiences as the deadly conflict in the aftermath of the 2021 coup continues but is overshadowed by other wars in the news cycle.

As Lin details:

關於緬甸的專題,主要是我們在思考哪一個亞洲的電影人,國家或者是特別計劃值得被介紹,那事實上經過我們的調查,沒有太多影展曾經以緬甸作為一個主題去做策劃,那當然 也是因為這幾年緬甸的情勢,或是他們所受到的限制,以至於他們的電影沒有辦法在國際的平台上曝光,所以tidf作為一個跟亞洲非常臨近的國際電影節或者是說台灣這個位置,就 讓我們有一些優勢去探索或是去放緬甸的作品,那這次總共有26部片,他應該是有史以來在影展裡面最大規模的緬甸電影的一種回顧,所以我覺得對於緬甸創作者緬甸 社群還有這個國家來說,應該是有很重要的意義,那我也覺得台灣應該要去關心這個地方,從他們的影片再看到我們自己。

Regarding Myanmar, our thinking was to define which Asian filmmakers, countries or special projects deserve to be elevated. In fact, according to surveys we conducted, not many film festivals have used Myanmar as a theme. Of course, our choice is also linked to the situation in Myanmar in recent years: the restrictions imposed on the country have resulted in their films not shown on international platforms. Therefore TIDF being an international film festival very close to Asia and based in Taiwan should take advantage to screen Burmese works. There are a total of 26 films this time — probably the largest review of Myanmar films ever in a film festival. I think this is important for Myanmar creators.  I also think Taiwan should care about this place and as we can also see ourselves through those movies.

Altogether, over 20 films were shown — and indeed recognized as key testimonies. The movie “Clinic” by Myanmar-born Midi Z, who studied in Taiwan and now lives in Taiwan as a Taiwanese citizen, took the Grand Prix on the Visionary Award selection of the festival. Here is a short video showcasing trailers of some of his movies:

Interestingly, a Taiwanese documentary by Huang Hsiu-yi (黃琇怡)  exploring the case of a Taiwanese businessman moving to Myanmar to open a white shrimp farm and the story of families divided between Taiwan and Myanmar also won the Jury Prize in the Taiwan Competition section. 

Taiwan and Myanmar have a long and complex shared history of migration in both directions, and the question of Taiwan’s investment in Myanmar remains a contested political issue on the island.  

A nod to the Middle East 

The festival also presented films from the Middle East, ranging from Morocco to Iran. The documentary “Bye Bye Tiberias,” by Lina Soualem, the daughter of iconic Palestinian Hiam Abbass, about her mother and grandmother, and about generations of women and questions of exile and identity, attracted a large crowd of viewers. Here is its trailer:

The film “My Stolen Planet,” by Farahnaz Sharifi, an Iranian woman filmmaker, now living in exile in Germany, was awarded twice, having also attracted a full room of viewers. The movie tells the story of Sharifi, who trained in film studies, and who while in Tehran, decides to retrieve discarded family memories of people who fled the 1979 Islamic Revolution and had to hide or abandon personal family archives such as home-made films and photos. She then digitalized and posted online what she found in this search, reflecting on exile and memory. Little did she know that amidst a one-year artist residency in Germany in 2022, as the death of Mahsa Amini turned into the Women, Life, Freedom movement in Iran, her Tehran home would be raided by the police, her own digital archive be confiscated and she would become herself an exile.  Here is a trailer of the documentary 

The film also came second at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year in the category of Special Awards – documentary. Here in Taiwan, it was given the Audience Award, and the Next Generation Award, a prize attributed by a jury of young people from Taiwan training to become film critics in the future. As Lin explains:

我們從幾個月前就對全台灣的高中生有一個open call,那隻要有興趣的人都可以投鍵參加,那我們在第一個階段選了大概有50位到60位的學生,經過 在一個類似workshop的階段之後,最後剩下18位變成正式的評審,所以他們來自於全台灣不同城市的高中,最後是我們選了6部片給他們評選,他們在電影院里花三天的時間看片討論看片討論,那最後今年大概是有一個接近4小時的Final deliberation去討論的主要作品,那對我們來說讓年輕人也可以看到紀錄片,或是在年輕人的社區裡 ,高中裡面知道有tidf其實蠻重要的事。 那另外就是他們對這個世界的想法,其實也苦無管道可以正式的跟其他不同世代的人溝通,所以我認為尊重他們的意見,讓他們可以表達是很重要的,那這個就是這個獎項最重要的精神。

We had an open call for high school students in Taiwan a few months ago. Anyone interested could apply to participate in that jury. In the first stage, we selected about 50 to 60 students. After a workshop-style selection, the remaining 18 young people became official judges. They come from high schools in different cities across Taiwan. In the end, we selected six films for them to review, and they spent three days in movie theaters to watch the films and then discuss them over four hours in a final deliberation session. We think young people should also watch documentaries. It is actually quite important to know about TIDF in this community of young people. Besides, their thoughts about the world are not easily communicated to people of different generations, so I think it is important to respect their opinions and allow them to express them. That is the most important thing about this award.

This year, the festival partnered with large commercial cinemas in the business part of the city – and many films were presented in sold-out shows — a rare occurrence for documentaries in any context. The next TIDF will be in 2026.

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