How did you decide the tone of the film?
Mailiao is a special place, and this whole issue is a little bit magical realist. Back when we were discussing the main focus of our film, we discovered a local newspaper Kisses and Hugs that extoled the benefits brought by the petrochemical industry. When you finish reading the newspaper, you’d find yourself starting to believe the words Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) said and claim, “The petrochemical industry is absolutely fantastic! WE are the ones who are nonsensical, aren’t we?” But when you woke up, you realized how ridiculous you had been, and as a result, our team were determined to make an absurd film out of it.
We have received a grant from Senao Technical and Cultural Education Foundation. During filming, people in the Foundation called us and said that FPG had visited them and expressed their concern. I was taken aback, for how come in such a free country we were still faced with such interference. I have sought advice from a lawyer who told us that there were indeed some legal concerns when filming certain places. But if you intend to tell the audience how gigantic this corporation is, you must include certain images. That’s why I put a warning sign and pixelated the scene to tell our audience to be cautious, which only makes the film look more absurd.
Almost all the local interviewees are supportive of No. 6 Naphtha Cracker Complex, and hold few negative thoughts about FPG, which forms a huge contrast with the ideas of that mother from Dacheng township, Changhua County. How do you see this contrast?
Kiss and Hugs is not only a newspaper, it speaks for FPG, and sends out the same message of “FPG is wonderful” to everyone. That protest scene happened unexpectedly; everyone was a bit stunned. When the pink bubble suddenly popped by someone’s honest words, things got out of hand.
XU Liyi, the mother who protested in the meeting was born and bred in Dacheng township. She has been protesting since the Kuokuang Petrochemical Project started a decade ago. Now she is the one that people go to when encountering any issues pertaining to air pollution. She is quite an important figure in her hometown.
You’ve filmed some school children from Ciaotou Elementary School, Syucuo Branch. Are there any particular reasons? How did you choose the subjects?
You can see that FPG is the biggest investor in local education. It supports field trips, graduation trips, and even offers financial assistance with respect to hardware facilities, scholarships and grants. I was curious how the school children find these things. How did they see FPG? They talked about many comic books such as Dragon Ball and Attack on Titan (Advancing Giants). FPG is to them the titan beyond the walls. So, I began to think, who is the titan inside the walls? I intended to make the film more comic-like and more aligned to children’s world view.
As to choosing the subjects, it was merely based on how many times these school children have moved back and forth between schools. One has moved for five times, the sum total of the event. The other has moved fewer times. Since both children are not shy with strangers, and thought film shooting was fun, my work didn’t cause them much trouble.
You yourself come from Yunlin County. How did you feel when you make this documentary?
We grew up in a simple environment, with resources a lot fewer than those in the cities. Our teachers kept telling us that if we could manage to get out, do not come back. People in Yunlin lead a relatively hard life, so when FPG offers stable and high-paying jobs, many would think that it’s more important to eat one’s fill. I can understand what they are thinking, but on the other hand, I want things to change. This is the difficult part for me. I feel that documenting the issue is the easiest way to help out, and at least, it’s something that I’m capable of doing.
You have been paying much attention to air pollution, and have created a series of documentaries about it. What is the most essential mindset for you from having this idea of filming to actually picking up your camera?
You have to believe in yourself. Social issues are big and many. It’s easy to give up while you’re still trying to understand them, and so many other people have already said the same thing about them. What are left for me to say? I think you have to constantly remind yourself of what motivated you in the first place. That is something that will keep you going till the end. Since the problem of air pollution takes place in my hometown, outsiders couldn’t care less. If local residents like myself do not take the initiative to understand this complicated issue, who will? You must hold onto some kind of motivation to push you forward. This is the most important thing. Think about it all the time, and keep filming.