Finish year

A Platform for Cross-regional Collaborations and Historical Connections - Notes on the 6th CNEX Chinese Doc Forum

Linking Local History through Documentary Filmmaking (Part I)
Reviews on 2015 CNEX Chinese Doc Forum

Documentary film is a rather marginalized genre in the production and distribution chain of the film industry. It is to our delight to observe that, more than those well-established international film festivals, such as International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, Hot Docs, Visions du Réel, Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, Asian Side of the Doc and Sheffield Doc/Fest, many cross-regional workshops, meetings, funds, and pitching forums are now developing in Asia. The 2nd edition of Docs Port Incheon and Vietnam’s Autumn Meeting (2015) were some of such examples. In addition to the importance of bringing together filmmakers, funders and distribution channels, some organizations emphasized on the training of story development. Moreover, these platforms gathered outstanding talents from all around the world for once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to exchange ideas. They allowed you to see the significant events happening around the globe and the unique viewpoints from the directors. This article addressed specifically on the 6th edition of CNEX Chinese Doc Forum in Taipei (CCDF-6). At the same time of introducing their unique characteristics, we also attempt to reflect on the current development of documentary films in Taiwan, in the view of the counterparts from around the world.

Upon reviewing the development of Chinese documentaries in 2015, many people felt kind of sorry for the Taiwanese production Wansei Back Home, when the Best Documentary Award at Golden Horse Awards went to The Chinese Mayor by the director from the mainland China, ZHOU Hao. This could probably be a very good chance to examine the differences in the documentary films across the Taiwan Strait, based on topics, perspectives, industry scales, and field investigation, and to figure out the structural factors that lead to the differences.

The Role of Taiwan in the Chinese Documentaries
Taking CCDF as an example, having its 6th year anniversary, CCDF is virtually one of the long-establish pitching forums in Asia. Pitching Forum was created thirty years ago by producer Pat Ferns and was introduced to North America and Europe. It is a platform for filmmakers to present works-in-progress to a wider group of investors, TV broadcasters, and festival programmers, and thus facilitating new partnerships. In Asia, when the Asian Side of the Doc was first held in Hong Kong in 2010, this event encouraged CNEX to collaborate with Mr. Ferns and hold a pitching forum. Fan WU, the former Director who organized the event from scratch for four years said “It didn’t seem hard when we saw the Hong Kong example, because there were only three people organizing that event. Pat also kindly provided much advice, in terms of venues, guests, program selection, and other practical considerations”.

Now in its sixth anniversary, CCDF trains directors on presentation skills, tips for trailers, and budget planning, to clearly deliver their ideas and stories under the time pressure of seven minutes. Parallel to this effort is their spirit striving to provide space for communication and networking, thereby prompting pitching forums as a platform for filmmakers to find their international partners, alongside other events in Asia, including ASD, GZDOC, DMZ DOCS, Tokyo Docs, Docs Port Incheon and Asian Pitch.

CCDF-6 received 106 submissions and selected seventeen Chinese documentaries. After the three-day training workshop, substantial changes were made to their pitching skills in order to efficiently draw the attention of international filmmakers. Additionally, CCDF-6 held pre-training workshops in Taipei and Beijing early in July as warm-ups for the pitching forum. Current Director SU Shu-kuan observed: “Projects in the CCDF-6 were presented with a touch of stage performance. Presenters broke free from the past framework and impressed the judges in wide-open eyes.” For example, China project Stammering Ballad invited its protagonist ZHANG Ga-song on stage to sing a local folk song. The pitching forum was suddenly transformed into a concert, and the commission editors couldn’t help but filming the moment with their mobile phones. The film was also awarded the Best Presented Pitch at the end. Demonstrating the resources at hand is also essential in pitching. For example, To Be a Buddha or Not is a Chinese production depicting the living Buddha twin brothers who made different life choices. In the end of their pitch, the producer invited Jean TSIEN, a member of American Cinema Editors, to voucher for it on stage, demonstrating a strong support and worthy expectation. A growing number in theatrical presentation, such as bringing Loyalty Dance on stage and using humorous double act, means that as they are mastering the format of pitching forums, presenters are also making bold changes to win strong impressions.

Through CCDF, international professionals know where to find the latest Chinese documentaries, while directors get more international opportunities. For example, Chinese director SUN Yang’s working project Ma Liang’s Time Machine told a story about an artist, MA Liang, who tried to help his Alzheimer father relive past memories by staging a puppet show "Time Machine". This film received Docs Port Incheon Award and Special ASD Invitation. Dealing with aging, illness, and feelings between father and son, it pursued not only universal affects but also a storyline that Korean and Japanese audiences would readily embrace. Implicit preferences often decide the popularity of a film at pitching forums. For example, “Tokyo would not show interest in films about cultural revolution due to its political sensitivity. As for The United House, an interesting film about European politics and immigration, it was not well received by the European commission editors, not as what we anticipated in the beginning”, said SU Shu-kuan.

Interestingly, out of these seventeen projects, only four came from Taiwan. A Different Daughter by LIN Hao-shen and SHIH Yu-lun depicts how the mother and daughter fight against ADHD across generations. The Shepherds by director Elvis LU and producer Kay CHOU put the spotlight on the entanglement between Christianity and gay identity. If She Leaves talked about the situation faced by a Vietnamese wife in Taiwan. Spark on the Ocean tried to preserve the rare fishing culture in northern Taiwan and explored the pros and cons of developing tourism for cultural heritage from the perspective of socially vulnerable people.

Some professionals lamented that the themes of Taiwanese documentary films often lack breadth in scope and depth in historical understanding. They also run short on the influence of complicated history on individuals and families, thus failing to draw international interests. This standpoint is indeed worth pondering. Director SU Su-kuan took If She Leaves as an example: “A foreign audience must first apprehend the position of foreign spouses in Taiwan before grasping the storyline”.

The aforementioned example showed the differences in the breadth and depth of themes across the Strait. Former director Fan WU suggested: “One advantage of projects from China lies in their current stage in social economic development. There are lots of important and film-worthy materials, such as forced eviction and industry transformation. Although there are many social movements in Taiwan, they seldom show uniqueness and novelty”. Still, we should examine the limit in themes under the light of industry structure. WU said that, markets in the Western countries provide better environment and most filmmakers could treat making documentary films as a full-time profession. There are divisions of different specialties. Filmmakers would start shooting when their projects are properly studied and funded. In Taiwan, apart from the Taiwan Public Television Service Foundation (PTS), virtually no other documentary broadcasting channel exists, so it is down to individual effort, which often runs short in funding and needs. Therefore, most documentary filmmakers capable of investigation are originally journalists. A recent example would be Sock’n Roll, a 2013 Taiwan documentary funded by a local magazine Business Weekly. This film started as a special report on the distribution of global weaving industry, and later morphed to focus on a middle-aged man working in the hosiery industry from middle Taiwan.

In China, many documentary film directors live on the high demand of television and commercial projects, while filming stories of their own interest. In comparison, documentary filmmakers in Taiwan mostly live on their passion or social calling to risk for a high return, due to the limited availability of commission fees, investigation, team sizes, as well as sound, editing, and other post-production supports.

To outgrow such local situation, international film festivals, conferences, workshops, and pitching forums are the potential platforms trying to develop cross-regional collaborations and historical connections. Taking one step back, this is a time to see the strengths in others and reflect upon ourselves.

The 7th edition of CCDF is now calling for entries. For more information, please visit: CCDF Website

Read more:
Linking Local History through Documentary Filmmaking (PartII)
Reviews on 2015 Asian Network of Documentary

(Translated by TSAI Hsin-hao)

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