In search of different spiritual practices belonging to the indigenous people of Makuta’ay, Taiwan. A miniature, an essay, an impressionistic painting.
Hi Yen-Chao thanks for talking to TNC, you all set for the festival?
Not yet, my distributor Serge Abiaad of La Distributrice de Films and I are still working on press material and posters. I also need to find someone to water my plants while I’ll be in Berlin!
Are there any nerves ahead of your Berlinale screening?
Yes and no. Yes because this is the first time I will be presenting The Spirit Keepers of Makuta’ay to the world, I feel like an anxious parent watching her child perform on a big stage for the first time. The public presentation can be an emotional process after spending so much energy and poured so much love into the project. However, I don’t feel more nervous because the big stage happens to be Berlinale.
How does it feel to be having your premiere at the festival, does this add any additional pressure on you?
It’s an incredible honour and pleasure for me. I was so excited I almost didn’t sleep for a week after being selected. It’s the first time I have a film screened at Berlinale, I don’t feel pressured as I don’t really know what is to be expected. Generally speaking, I try not to let power and power dynamics dictate my actions and thoughts. I will simply present myself and my work to the world as is, with integrity.
Tell me a little bit about The Spirit Keepers of Makuta’ay, how did the film come about?
I left my birth country Taiwan at the age of 13, I moved to Canada without my parents because I somehow knew this was the only way for me to pursue personal freedom. I won’t get too much into the details; this can be the subject of another interview. The Spirit Keepers of Makuta’ay was shot on location in the traditional Amis territory on the rural east coast of Taiwan, where I completed a 5-week long residency at Cepo’ Art Center, Hualian.
My memory of Taiwan was limited to the metropolitan Taipei and the people of Han Chinese ethnic. I wanted to deepen my knowledge of the colonial history of Taiwan, I was researching hauntology, and my practice is focused on folk religion, dreams and divination arts. It’s the first time I worked as an artist in Taiwan. In some ways, it’s also a form of personal reconciliation, to return as an adult and to be able to look into what I ran away from at the age of 13.
"I was first interested by the medium of film and cameras as art objects."
What are you currently working on?
I’ll give you two clues: dowsing and microscope.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this film?
I hope to bring more awareness to Indigenous issues and the consequences of colonization in Taiwan and elsewhere. Here in Canada, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has triggered a lot of decolonizing movements in the arts and in the broader society. I hope people in a privileged position can use their privilege to enact change because every little thing one does contributes to the collective change.
What was the biggest challenge you faced bringing this film to life?
Dealing with technical issues during post-production. I’m not the most tech savvy person; by choosing to edit the film digitally I put myself in a position where I have to spend a lot of time with a computer.
Looking back is there anything you would do differently?
I would have changed my editing software of choice and my post-production workflow…
Have you always been interested in filmmaking?
I studied studio art and I have a multidisciplinary practice. In fact, I’m more of a visual artist with a film practice than a full-time filmmaker. I was first interested by the medium of film and cameras as art objects.
As a filmmaker, how important is the collaborative process for you?
Since I work on small scale productions, my close collaborators are co-authors of the piece. The sound design started as soon as the filming started. Oliver Lewis spent 10 days at Makuta’ay making field recordings and breaking down different soundscape concepts with me. Rara Dongi, a Makuta’ay community organizer and language activist was very generous to share her time and stories. This film could not exist without everyone who has contributed and inspired us.