6 years of documentaries

Last month Taipei had the hype of 台北金馬影展 Golden Horse Film Festival and the much less hyped 台灣國際紀錄片雙年展 Taiwan International Documentary Festival. For all the worthy films in Golden Horse, it still celebrates the same high-priced and monotonous global obsession that Hollywood is entranced with and really has very little to say about what is going on in film-making in Asia. The Documentary Festival however presented a much more encouraging view of Asian film-making.

At the Golden Horse Film Awards earlier this month, the number of Taiwanese-made feature films submitted to the competition–reputed as the Oscar of Chinese-language motion pictures–was just 29, of which 14 were short films less than 60 minutes in length. That means that commercially oriented movies produced in Taiwan in recent years have only amounted to about 15 films per year.

In contrast, the number of Taiwanese documentaries submitted to the biennual Taiwan International Documentary Festival (TIDF) this year was 142, 20 more than in 2002. The festival’s first year, 1998, saw fewer than 100 entries. The 2004 festival ran Dec. 11-17.

“Life,” a two-hour-long Taiwanese documentary about the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in central Taiwan in 1999, made more money at the local box office than any other Chinese-language motion picture this year, despite mixed reviews.

Whether it is a good or bad sign for Taiwan’s moribund film industry, this shows at least that feisty local filmmakers are striving to do whatever they can with whatever resources they have.

As the only international competitive film festival in Taiwan, TIDF has grown considerably over the last six years. There were 287 movies from 40 countries submitted to the third TIDF. The number this year has jumped to more than 640 works from 100 countries.