German professor gives his advice to aspiring Taiwanese film makers
For an artist, rejection is a painful yet critical part of the creative process. It may sting at first, but it hones the strongest elements of an idea and drives the impulse within the artist to bring it forward.
This point was not lost on Till Dietsche who serves as curator for the annual Tainan 39-hour Short Film Contestival ( 39
) and teaches film as an assistant professor at Dayeh University (
) while bringing aspiring filmmakers together with seasoned experts in the field. His initial proposal 15 years ago while still living in his native Germany was a film festival consisting of short films, an idea that was initially rejected. Dietsche, unhampered, subsequently worked with his friends and organized the festivals themselves in a nightclub in Kiel, which generated surprising success which lead him to believe that the notion of short film festivals had traction and appeal.
Fast-forward a decade and shift continents from Europe to Asia, where his spirit of cultivating the unconventional through short films has moved to Taiwan, an island with its a history of its own famous directors, including Hou Hsiaohsien, Ang Lee and Tsai Mingliang.
Each year the festival brings aspiring and experienced film makers together, giving them an opportunity to work through tremendous time constraints to develop a short film in less than two days’ time. The program also includes a comprehensive set of events including screenings of German short films, panel discussions and a workshop. This year’s winners of the Golden Taiwan Award for the film “Have A Nice Day” ( ) received an award of NT$30,000, two plane tickets to Berlin and a guaranteed screening at the 31st Berlin International Short Film Festival in November.
Tradition Meets Innovation
This year, Dietsche and the festival have teamed up with the Goethe Institute, which has had a presence in Taiwan since 1963, a keystone institution cultivating knowledge about Germany by providing information on German culture, society and politics in over 150 institutes worldwide.
At first glance, this partnership between the well-established and globally networked Goethe Institute (which originated as the German Academy in 1925) and the relatively young film festival based in Tainan (which recently screened its fourth festival), seems a bit incongruous. Delving deeper however, their compact is built upon a meaningful enterprise which centers on promoting the idea of cultural exchange by not only promoting the screening of short films from Germany into Taiwan, but by generating a bi-directional dialogue among international cultures, new and experienced film makers and audiences and gazing into new visions of up-and-coming generations of young Taiwanese directors.
Dr. Clemens Treter, who serves as director of the Goethe Institute in Taipei, which has in the past collaborated in and supported larger film festivals such as the Golden Horse, sees new opportunities in the current form of cooperation. While potential exposure may be a leading consideration for large-scale collaborations, Treter believes that dialogue and impact can be greater when engaging in smaller projects, especially short films, because it involves working with emerging directors, actors and the people who might make it big someday.
Dietsche, who has overseen the process of making the annual film festival in Tainan a “cultural exchange festival,” characterizes the Goethe Institute as “the perfect friend in facilitating cultural exchange and bringing German art to Taiwan.”
It is this notion of accessibility that finds a compatible partner with the incubation of new directors who are encouraged to experiment with technique, style and story-telling methods at the Tainan-based film festival. This is a key draw for winners of the film fest who are awarded a coveted trip to Berlin in which their work is screened and the real opportunity for exchange is presented with meetings with experts and experienced film makers. Dietsche noted how many upstarts to the film world who made the trip to Berlin were amazed at the degree of accessibility.
For Treter, the opportunity has also afforded a more detailed look at the role of short films in cultural exchange. He notes the advantages of the medium in which a series of works can allow for the experimentation of usages of different styles in the representation of a particular theme. In the process of becom- ing more knowledgeable about Taiwanese short film, Treter is able to see how international exposure, by means of bringing accessibility and facilitating dialogue, can fuse with local film characteristics which have already “developed their own film language.”
For both Treter and Dietsche, the aspect of cultural exchange is less about broadcasting and presenting, but is instead more about sustaining dialogue. Short films, according to Dietsche, are particularly well-suited for the task since its very goal of encouraging differentiation on themes (for example, friendship) can allow cultural exchange to supersede more rigid tendencies that may be centered on cultural stereotypes. These “less intrusive, more playful” aspects of promoting cultural dialogue can challenge both filmmaker and audiences alike without bludgeoning each other with essentialized notions of what German or Taiwanese culture should or shouldn’t be.
In his dual role as film festival curator and professor, Dietsche sees first hand the critical role cultural exchange can play in the aspiring filmmaker. This is especially true for an island nation such as Taiwan in which the sea has a strong tendency to insulate, “making it easier to focus inside rather than outside.”
It is indeed a crucial time for new directors in Taiwan who must decide whether to continue along the styles of established masters or stake out a vision of their own. As Dietsche pointed out, the process of making a film has been popularized with the advent of cheaper cameras and the availability of smartphones. It therefore represents a greater opportunity that focuses more on content and originality of ideas and technique rather than how expensive or technically sound one’s equipment is.
When asked about what aspiring and those new to the field of filmmaking can do, aside from enthusiastically urging them to participate in short film festivals, Dietsche advised aspirants to watch more films while interacting as much as possible with those involved in the creative process. For more information: Tainan 39-hour Short Film Contestival: http://www.tainan39. com Goethe Institute in Taipei: http://www.goethe.de/ins/cn/cn/ tai.html
1. Participants in this year’s Tainan 39 Hour Short Film Contestival work with lighting during a screening event. 2. “Lights, camera, action!” A director in this year’s Tainan 39 Hour Short Film Contestival signals the start of filming during a scene. 3. Dr. Clemens Treter, left, Director of the Goethe Institute in Taipei and Asst. Professor Till Dietsche of Dayeh University, right, discuss the idea of cultural exchange during a meeting in Taipei.