Your motivation for filming A Fight to the Death was…?
HSIEH: A producer from Hakka TV mentioned to us that there was an old man in Hsinchu who has been protesting against the expropriation of land for more than 30 years. We were very curious as to why his fury has lasted for so long. Later on, we found out that Baoshan Reservoir was built on top of the expropriated land to serve Hsinchu Science Park. Such an economic achievement of gigantic proportions was shockingly built on the exploitation of a few people. We were puzzled and wanted to understand what it was that caused him to be so angry, and this was the idea behind A Fight to the Death.
CHEN: The key to picking a good topic for a documentary is to look for events and people that have a high level of contrast in and of themselves. What was unique about this assignment was the land expropriation for Hsinchu Science Park. Behind the glitz and glamor, high stock prices and multi-million dollar annual incomes of the engineers, there was actually a group of people who had to pay the price. This was the key decision-making moment for me. I felt that it was a good subject that should continue to receive attention.
How long did production take? How did you sort out the story elements and decide how it would be presented?
HSIEH: All in all, it took us about a year and a half. Research during the early stages took around three months, and after filming for a year, we spent another three months or so on editing. In the process, we uncovered a lot of information from documents and videos, and gradually, we started to get a better understanding of the issue.
CHEN: Honestly, Ching-chih Lin rambled a lot and included a lot of unrelated details and events when he spoke because he was too angry to coherently explain to us what actually happened. The viewers might assume that it was only natural that the story flowed smoothly, but we put in a lot of effort to look at this issue from different perspectives and put the scenes in the order in which they actually happened. At the same time, we had to verify everything that LIN Ching-chih had said. We even interviewed the current and previous county magistrates, as well as the management of Baoshan Reservoir.
HSIEH: Next was the issue of the raw footage, which we put in a lot of effort to sort out. The videos were shot by the members of the Baoshan Reservoir grassroots activist organization to document their meetings, and as a result, the material for the film was all over the place. There were about 20 to 30 hours worth of raw footage, all in the Hakka language, and we had to cross-reference them with the events that happened, as well as confirm when they happened.
CHEN: These videos were shot by Ching-yun Chang. He had a sense that it might be important to document the process, so he went out and bought a camcorder. I am really grateful to him, because even if there had been reporters on site, they would have released just a one-to-two-minute news clip. However, as a participant in the process, he went about documenting records wherever he went, preserving a lot of valuable images. Watching the raw footage was like watching a drama series, given the number of absurd “story lines” that were captured on screen. It was truly riveting, despite the low video quality.
How did you split the work for A Fight to the Death,?
CHEN: We have worked together for more than 10 years and we almost always split it up in the same way. More often than not, I take on the role of the producer, and am in charge of looking for funding, as well as reaching out to various contacts and the media. Thereafter, we will do the filming together, as well as discuss the content to be filmed.
HSIEH: I am responsible for the technical side of things, such as filming and editing. To be honest, the most difficult part of making films is the perspective. You have to first go through it, experience it and let it fill you, before exchanging ideas with each other and understanding where you have differing opinions. Through this process, we are slowly able to discuss our opinions on the crux of the issue. This is also why we choose to work in pairs, as when there are two directors who can develop the feeling, a more comprehensive perspective will result. As for technique, it is simply a tool to help the viewers understand this perspective.
Are you still investigating the Baoshan Reservoir issue, or are there other issues that you have shifted your attention towards?
CHEN: We were planning to film the Tainan Railway Underground Project. We had already done our research, submitted our proposal and started filming, but in the end, we were not assigned the project, so we had to put it on hold.
HSIEH: Truth be told, we are not just curious about protest movements in specific locations; rather, we are more interested in why these movements keep happening in Taiwan. We hear a lot about other similar angry rallies in different places and would like to know what the cause of this phenomenon is. There are many things that we unquestioningly believe is beneficial, however, these might actually leave scars that remain, unnoticed, even after many years. It then comes down to whether or not there is anyone who is willing to spend the time to listen and understand.
While we filmed a protest movement against land expropriation, we are not trying to lay blame on anyone, not on the protesters, not on the administrators and not even on those in the middle carrying out the expropriation. What we want to do is to try to understand what they are thinking, what they are concerned about and what their motivations are. Why is it that these movements always end in a deadlock? Once we can do this, the next time a protest movement happens, we will have the opportunity to discuss how we can deal with it in a better way, and not just point fingers at one another.
Filming a struggle against land expropriation, it is easy to get caught up in the protest movement and take their side, deriding the authorities for their actions, but in doing so, we would be detracting from the importance of truly understanding the underlying systemic problems. When issues like these occur in large numbers, how should we view them? Simply denouncing the government as murderous is an oversimplification of the issue, and naivety robs us of the chance for deeper conversation and we will lose the opportunity to see what is really happening behind the scenes.