HUANG Hsin-yao’s Cloud Nation: On the Same Track, Listening to the Sounds from the Island

by YANG He-ming, CHANG Wen-hsin / 2016-08-13

Q: Can you share with us some of your filming process and thoughts about the film?

I started this film around 2002 and 2003. I accidently found out that there is a boat travelling from Keelung to Okinawa. I was curious and wanted to travel there. By the time I graduated from Tainan National University of the Arts in 2005, I decided to take the boat to Okinawa. However, the boat was canceled a month before I graduated. However, this remained in my mind since then. After many years, WANG Pai-Zhang, the producer of Taiwan Public Television (PTS) knew I had this idea and encouraged me to write it into a proposal. Even though I told him it was a very abstract concept, he said it was fine, as documentary film needs time to grow bigger and bigger.

Eventually I really went there, and found out that it was very different from what I have expected. However, I still kept thinking “what kind of story should I film?” A year later, I went there again, and discovered that although I did not know more about Yonaguni Island as the time passed by, my opinion towards documentary film were very different from my last visit. I took the boat to Ishigaki Island, then head towards Yonaguni Island. My first shot in the film was made on the boat. If you ask me why I want to make it that way, I do not really know. Many frames were cut in half either vertically or horizontally. Still some others were cut in diagonal direction. In fact, when looking back on the shots on the boat, I could not even answer myself why I made it that way.

After arriving on the island, I still had no clue about how to film, so I wondered around for one week, and told myself not to shoot anything deliberately. When making a documentary film, the more you feel lost, the more you want to shoot. You would always be afraid of missing a lot of scenes, and believe that the more you film, the clearer you can see. But actually I do not agree with it. Thus I just continued to roam around the island. With a little pot I brought with me, I cooked both lunch and dinner (mostly noodles) with the wood picked along the way by myself, as the goods in Japan were too expensive. I started to live a very slow life, walking around and looking at the sea without any particular thing to do.

Later on, I started to feel that there was a voice talking to me. At that time, I adjusted my frequency closer to the island, just like turning the radio into the right tune in order to hear the sound coming out from it. I felt that it was because I slowed down the pace that allowed me to hear the sounds of the island. The island did “tell” me many things which reflect in my work, so it did not take me too much time to do the editing.

The content of the film is: in the beginning I took the boat to the small island. The second shot was in the cabin, which slightly resembles a spaceship. The boat is moving in distance, whereas a spaceship is traveling in time. On the island, there are horse, animals, and plants. Then human also came. However, I did not use a real person to indicate human. Instead, I incorporated artificial things, such as road and windmill to represent human trace and activity. Gradually, the population grew. You can see villages, restrooms, and constructions of an airport and pier. Human build these structures in their own way in which other animals may not use. There is one shot in the film that I find quite important, which is a cow peeing outside the restroom. The restroom was made for human, while other animals do not necessarily need it. My film is about the relationship between men and nature. We tend to think that we care for animals, but in fact we do not.

Following the film, you may see that boats and airplanes come; the amount of people grow; crops and livestock appear. Human beings come to intervene the nature. When there are human beings, there is brotherhood. Inevitably, there is politics as well. Therefore, the conflict of building the military base has come to rise. In the last scene, there is a horse under the sky. When you see the horse closely, you can find it chained and confined by an unobvious small rope under the vast sky. This is what I would like to express – why should the future of this island be decided by human? Who gives human the right? The island accepted animals and human, but in the end it is human that dominates. The island must have felt wronged.

Going back to your question, I did not really avoid people on purpose. I just had no intention to film people in the first place. The reason is that many documentary films tend to use human as their main character. But I do not want to talk about human. I want to see men as a type of animal or a species, not the spiritual part of being a human being.

In many occasions, the horse would simply walk by the camera as soon as the lens is ready and things have been prepared. I did not set up anything, forasmuch that I always felt it was the island that settled everything for me and taught me how to film. For example, there was an interesting long cut about tidying up the grass. I usually went to the sea next to the farm to cook noodles, and wanted to film the grass and the weeding machine one day. But at that time I was very hungry, so I decided to film after I ate my noodle. Unfortunately, when I finished my meal and went back to the site, an elder man already drove the weeding machine and left. Subsequently, a cow came out of from the restroom without expectation, and I captured that moment intuitively. The coincidence made me feel that the island is somehow talking to me, and I am able to receive the messages. For me, making Cloud Nation is like helping the island to express its inner feelings.

Q: Your previous works usually filmed people as subjects. What is the difference between filming sceneries and filming people? Have your thoughts changed after finishing Cloud Nation?

I always have the feeling that I am bad at filming people. Even though I have made a documentary film about KE Shi-hai in my precious work Bluffing. However, I am now pretty resistant to filming people with no reason. I do not like to make character-driven films, and I am not good at it. For example, if I film you, I would have to talk in depth with you, and in some cases you may not want me to know what you are thinking in mind. However, it would be quite hard for me to film if you do not open your heart to me. Since both of us would not want to let each other feel embarrassed, I would wonder why should I even have to film anyway?

Filming people as subject is usual for someone starts making documentary films, because it is easier to pick up. One can discuss other issues from the people’s stories. However, as I continued to film, I gradually considered trying out other possibilities. When watching other filmmakers’ documentary works, I also started to question why can they find the problems you do not see? Why are they able to reveal issues by using people as main subjects? I think it might because education in Taiwan lacks philosophy. Take documentary films for example, it is easy to make audience touching, but how can you move audience and make them think further and deeper afterwards? If passion is something that will be burned out quickly, how can we let the feeling remain in one’s heart?

In the beginning I also did not know what the film would look like, but there was always an inner voice saying that “you have to make an atypical documentary”. People from other countries may find my film rather common, but in Taiwan Cloud Nation is considered unusual. In fact, I did not really think that much when filming, because making documentary film for me is like facing myself instead of the audience. When I finished what I wanted to say through Cloud Nation, I feel as if I am also healed by the island.

For more information about Cloud Nation, please click here.

(Translated by Shin-jie LEE)