Metamorphosing among Boundaries: Aephie, Director of Taiwan Film Festival
Text by Yenting Hsu
Aephie and I first met in London. A friend put me in contact with her when I visited the city for my research in 2010. I was only expecting a two-hour brunch, but we hit it off from the beginning. She was full of excitement when she told me about her latest project, Boating Island. At the core of it was a metaphor: a boat is an island – just like Taiwan, sailing on a river. She invited me to see the boat she’d scouted.
Aephie’s creativity is an instinct, just like she eats when she gets hungry. I remember flipping through Aephie’s drawings in her room. It was before she had figured out how to express her feelings through words, and drawing was her only way out. She then completed her Master degree at London Film School, and swiftly became a brilliant director and screenwriter, able to transform all the ideas in her head into screenplays. Soon after her MA, she was selected by the BFI and The Screen Arts Institute for the Storytelling from the Screen programme, the only filmmaker of East Asian heritage to take part. Unlike those who focus on – or limit themselves to – a single discipline despite being aware of many, Aephie’s practice is as boundless as her creativity. She effortlessly moves between different modes of expression.
She studied architecture then, following encouragement from one of her professors, she specialised in fashion design. Whether it’s using walls and bricks, or fabrics wrapped around a body, she has an innate ability to translate what is in her imagination into a physical reality. The same is true when it comes to storytelling. Her pen can be either drawing, directing or writing, but it will always be telling the story she wants to tell.
Aephie has always been on the move. And just as she has travelled between Europe, the US, Japan, and Taiwan, her practice is also in flux. As undefinable and unpredictable as an elf, she is a screenwriter, director, spatial designer, costume designer, radio host, and production designer.
Aephie told me, “my existence is questioned every time I set foot in a different country. I always have to explain my identity over and over again.” In both her identity and her practice, the confinement of reality comes after an initial freedom: social norms often prompt her to re-examine and re-explain who she really is.
Perhaps because of her unusual life experience, Aephie began thinking and exploring her identity early on. Thanks to her optimism and open-mindedness, she is able to tackle these heavy issues in humorous and intriguing ways, like a distinctive flower growing out of the soil of reality.
The Taiwan Film Festival is a vital realisation of Aephie’s practice. Invited by the Cultural Division of the Taipei Representative’s Office in the UK, she has organised the first Festival in both the UK and Iceland. Based in London and familiar with European cinema, she noticed that the uniqueness of Taiwanese film is largely overlooked, as it has long been considered a part of Chinese-language cinema- a broad and indistinct category. European audiences might recognise the names of Taiwanese filmmakers Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Edward Yang, Tsai Ming-Liang, and Ang Lee, but plenty of talented emerging filmmakers and films remain unknown. This festival aims to change that.
Currently, Taiwan is undergoing a similar crisis to that which the UK experienced in the 70’s and 80’s when its film industry experienced the investment and then subsequent withdrawal of Hollywood funds and an ensuing large-scale outflow of talent to the US. Both islands share the same challenge of not being overshadowed by a larger nation. This is one of Aephie’s main reasons for choosing the UK to launch the Taiwan Film Festival.
Dissimilarity, Diversity and Distinctiveness is the theme of the first Taiwan Film Festival. It responds to the place of Taiwan in world politics and resonates with Aephie’s constantly challenged identity. Taiwan and Aephie’s identity both share an elusive status, in flux between existence and non-existence.
Among all the territories of Chinese-language cinema, Taiwan is the only one that protects freedom of speech and rejects censorship. The issues of LGBTQ people, ethnicity, land rights, environment, and politics can all be discussed without restriction.
Through the Taiwan Film Festival, Aephie aspires to introduce the cohort of daring and adventurous new Taiwanese filmmakers and their works to a European audience. She chose a sea monster as the symbol of the festival. Just like the mysterious Loch Ness Monster, Taiwan oscillates ambiguously, between being there and not-there.
Aephie kindly offered to house me when we first met. During my stay, she had a business trip to Northern Europe for a couple of days but ended up returning the next day. She was deported back to the UK because the system at a small city airport couldn’t identify her Taiwanese passport (which granted her access to most of the countries in Europe). She was asked to show a visa she didn’t have and had never needed. I witnessed how she struggled with our passport, a non-existent existence.
To curate the Taiwan Film Festival, she travelled between the UK, Taiwan, Iceland and France to conduct research while exchanging ideas with other practitioners and professionals. She aims to gain a deeper understanding of the current position of Taiwanese films in both Taiwan and the European market, as well as to grasp a comprehensive picture of the social realities narrated and discussed in these films.
Despite all the weighty issues the Festival tackles, she insisted on adopting the playful sea monster as its mascot. She even came up with the idea of producing work based around it – this is the Aephie I know. Perhaps the monster will metamorphose during the festival. Are you excited?