What were the origins of this film?
This project was a collaboration between the Public Television Service and the National Center for Film and Audiovisual Heritage (formerly the Taiwan Film Institute), mainly using historical footage to make a film. I got the idea after watching a lot of archive footage from 1940 and onward. However, I didn’t start off with a preconceived position. Instead, I set out the scope of what I was doing and looked for relevant file footage and articles. Using field research, I gradually narrowed down the scope of things and did makeup shots for the parts where things were lacking.
The music used in the film is strongly evocative, could you talk a little about the production of the music and sound effects?
This film is a fairly simple creation; in editing, I cut things together with the rhythm of the images. I cut, made the music, and assembled it all at the same time. It was like sculpting, you start out gradually molding it and then you get working on the finer details. It wasn’t really the usual way of making a film, so I considered it a kind of practice. It was about getting back to pure creation, to a handmade feeling. The music is from an old British group called Zoviet France. It’s mostly ambient and entrancing; where the video is shot in slow motion, the sound slows down, making the rituality and religiosity even more pronounced. So that’s how all that was put together. It was when shooting that I decided to use slow motion. There’s a lot to slow down and look at, and whether it’s sound or video, it gives people a different sense of time and perception, like being in a dream world.
How does the film link up with your own life?
I grew up in Dadaocheng, and there were a lot of temple fairs, so things like General Xie and General Fan, god puppets, and beiguan music are all in my bones, and they keep reappearing in my work. I’m someone who dreams a lot. Dreams are essentially image-based, and when I started the film, I wanted to create a kind of dreamlike feeling. Dreams have their own kind of logic which isn’t necessarily very rational, so there are a lot of jumps in the film, whether in video, music, or sound. Every 20 minutes is like a dream of its own.
The film’s narration is provided by Dawang HUANG and YANG Ming-hsun, one chanting the whispers of god-images in Mandarin and one narrating dream memories in Taiwanese. Why did you choose to do it this way?
Dreams can be very literary and artistic. I used Taiwanese because I speak Taiwanese with my family, and my dreams are related to death in the family, so I wanted them to use Taiwanese, so I asked YANG Ming-hsun to do that. Dawang HUANG feels that there are many layers to human consciousness, and the consciousness in the film is also multilayered, with people speaking here and some mumbling into people’s ears on the side, as though the two are in dialog.
Why did you choose scenes where the people in the film look directly at the camera?
I find staring interesting. Sometimes a closer look at something can seem to pass straight through to the essence of the thing. When they look at the camera and you look at them, it’s like looking into a mirror. Then I decided I wanted to find all the shots when they’re looking at the camera, deliberately seek them out and freeze on them, like you’re watching for a long time and can get that feeling of cutting through that superficial layer.
This film has a lot of room for imagination. Is there any particular message you want to convey to the audience?
There’s no specific purpose or logic. I hope that everyone will have a sense of seeing a dream or have some kind of feeling about it. Everyone is too rational these days. I hope everyone will just feel this film and take in the sound and video on the sensory level. I think everyone can see something different.
More information about In Trance We Gaze.