translated by HO Hsiao-fu, edited by Stefanie ESCHENLOHR, and proofread by TSAI Wan-ying
From Now On features a survivor of the Morakot Typhoon Disaster, Mr. WENG Rui-qi, and tells how he survived the disaster. The director, Akira CHEN, filmed the documentary Home after the 921 Earthquake in 1999 and earned a nomination for the Best Documentary of the 41st Golden Horse Award. In 2009, Morakot Typhoon attacked Taiwan, causing serious damage to the south of Taiwan, and Siaolin Village in Jiasian, Kaohsiung City was the place most heavily damaged, where over 500 residents were reported either missing or dead. After the disaster, Akira CHEN was invited to make a documentary film. He finished a short one on the disaster in 2012 and completed a longer version, From Now On, in 2015, which shows how survivors dealt with death of their loved ones and tried to rebuild.
On the origin and the making of From Now On
In 2009, when Morakot Typhoon severely attacked the south of Taiwan, Siaolin Village in Jiasian was completely destroyed by a landslide. The catastrophe drew a heartfelt nationwide response. As the Kaohsiung city government planned to document the reconstruction process, they approached experienced director Akira CHEN to shoot a documentary of the reconstruction efforts. CHEN, who previously thought that a long-term stay in the disaster area and close observation of the survivors’ sufferings might cause psychological stress, couldn’t resist the chance, so he agreed to enter the devastated area.
Chen said, “At first, when I went to Siaolin Village, I just wanted to have a drink and chat with the residents there, without digging into their painful memories. I went there several times. After three months, I became friends with the residents. The Kaohsiung Film Festival was about to take place in October, but I hadn’t started filming in August. Even survivor WENG Rui-qi was getting nervous about it and asked, “When are you going to start shooting your film? I am afraid that you’ll not be able to finish in time. Or would you like to shoot a film about me and how I survived?” As WENG lost the most family members in the village and had already been the focus of media attention, he was used to being in front of the camera. This was not exactly what CHEN wanted, but since he had gotten close to WENG, he somehow naturally became the main subject.
The short version of From Now On premiered at the Kaohsiung Film Festival.
Some time after the short version of From Now On premiered at the Kaohsiung Film Festival, CHEN was surprised to receive a phone call from WENG, who happily told him about his wife’s probable pregnancy and that she was going to have a medical examination. WENG even asked him if he wanted to record their continuing story. CHEN did him the favour, but he realized that he’d have to avoid any over-sentimentalism in the planned long version of From Now On.
Back to the nature of images and genuine concern for people's grief
From Now On doesn’t follow chronological order and frequently uses long-takes to capture WENG’s self-mumbling and silence. CHEN said, “I taught production of documentary films before, but this film is totally contrary to the rules of how to produce a good documentary. First, it doesn’t tell a story and its narration does not follow a clear pattern of order. Second, it does not touch on emotions such as agitation, conflicts, confrontation and compromise which I took out. I had all these materials, but used none of them because they were meaningless to me. In the end, I even removed all music from this film; there is no music from start to finish.” CHEN was careful not to film traumatized victims of the disaster. “For me, documentaries should be genuine recordings, truthful to the most natural essence of documentaries I would not claim that only this kind of film could be called a documentary. I began mulling over what the essence of genuine images is and if I could give this world something more genuine,” he said.
The subject makes a documentary film happen; the film influences the subject’s life as well. During the interview with Akira CHEN, the relationship between filmmakers and their subjects were discussed deeply.
The road of reconstruction of Siaolin Village is so much longer than eighty minutes. The residents there hoped for rebirth and paid respect to the dead. They also had to confront the fragility of life and deal with many obstacles.
Across the river, about those who left and those who were left behind
Many religious rituals shown in this film do not seem to have a clear purpose. However, when people lose their family and their hearts are hollowed out, those rituals are like a life-saving raft. CHEN could only comprehend the villagers’ grief when his close friend WANG Tuoh passed away.
This film has been edited by many editors, but CHEN was not satisfied with any of the previous edited versions. Later, he invited LI Nien-hsiu to edit it, as she had directed Hebei Taipei, which is about the death of her father. Probably due to their mutual experience of loss, their collaboration allowed the current structure of From Now On to slowly come out.
Let’s say there is a river, and at one side of the river stand the ones who were left behind, while at the other side stand the ones who left. In the eighty-one minutes of this film, the subject is talking from his side of the river, but would those on the other side receive the message? In the last five seconds of the film, CHEN answers the question for those standing on the other side of the river: “When the pouring rain stops, we are not there then.” He is telling the living to move forward without looking back.
Amongst all the films CHEN made, From Now On is the one he least revisited after the final cut, even though he feels that he still has a lot to say. But “to say” and “to be able to say” are two different things, and what he would like to say doesn’t give the whole picture. CHEN said that the final version was all decided by intuition and that there will never be a satisfactory version. “Making this documentary was not a sensible decision. I would caution those thinking of making a similar documentary. ” However, his decision to make From now on has truly touched the hearts of audiences, making them think of their beloved ones who are still there and those who have already gone.