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Legend has it that the fish in the Sun Moon Lake was transformed from a white deer, and it’s why indigenous people started to eat fish. A large serpent living inside an ancient camphor tree was said to be the guardian of the lake. Also famous are the Buddhist relics of the monk Xuanzang enshrined in the eponymous Temple, and the over 400 peacocks kept in the local bird park... Here, intriguing folktales keep unfolding one after another.
The grey mullet is known for its roe, a beloved delicacy in Taiwan. Every year around the winter solstice, schools of grey mullet migrate south to spawn. When the cold current hits Taiwan, so comes the grey mullet. In order to catch the precious ‘black gold’ at dawn, local fishermen set out in the thick mist and follow the mullet in the dark. This documentary focuses on the mullet industry and captures the 300-year-old tradition of mullet fishing.
Situated in the hills leading down to the coast, Ruifang used to pride itself on its coal mining industry. Every morning, miners from surrounding neighbourhoods gathered here to put on their gears and got into the minecarts, heading underground into pitch darkness. They worked non-stop in challenging conditions of high stress and high temperature, providing Taiwan with an indispensable source of energy. This documentary celebrates the miners’ contribution, but also stirred up controversy due to its inaccurate report of their wages.
Zhonggang, a former commercial harbour in Miaoli County once suffering from sedimentation and decline, thrived again with its joss paper (ghost money) industry. Almost every family was part of it: Different generations worked together, attaching gold foils and stamping the paper in red ink, before sending it to dry. When massive stacks of golden joss paper basked in the sun, the town seemed to be covered in dreamy golden waves.
When Taipei is still quiet and asleep, trucks after trucks emerge in the dark with fresh fruits and vegetables, seafood and meat. Intermediate wholesalers' auction chants rise and fall; the Central Market is getting ready to feed the city's population. The film offers a glimpse into the lively hustle and bustle of the Market in the 1970s, but was likely banned from broadcast due to its perceived display of the unhygienic conditions.
The riverbanks are dotted with food stalls and buzzing with the parasol-holding crowd. Everyone is here to watch the exciting dragon boat race. Voice-over narration in melodic Taiwanese describes pre-festival preparation, and the celebrations and rituals in various parts of Taiwan. Through carefully-crafted script and well-executed camerawork, this documentary gives a vibrant portrait of ordinary people’s lives in a festive atmosphere.
A train rolled into Tamsui, a charming harbour town full of historical and cultural complexity. European-style architecture tells its colonial past, while Fujianese immigrants' influence stays present in local people's everyday life. Celebrated photographer and cinematographer CHANG Chao-tang captured Tamsui in the 1970s on film, creating a nostalgic yet melancholic concerto played by missionaries, fishermen, and tourists.
In the 1970s, the wave of modernisation hit the Orchid Island (Lanyu). Warship Rock, Double Lion Rock, Lover’s Cave, the wisely and artistically designed tatala (traditional fishing boat), along with the Tao people’s amazing fishing skills were well-known by the public through the growing tourism, yet the small island of Lanyu and Tao people’s indigenous ways of life still remained a ‘spectacle’. When the documentary film crew arrived with curiosity and good intentions, what stories would they tell together?
The first episode of Fragrant Formosa takes viewers through one of the most famous annual religious events in Taiwan. Believers used to spend eight days accompanying the sea goddess Mazu from Dajia (of Taichung City) to Beigang (of Yunlin County) on foot, before escorting her back to Dajia with rituals and celebrations. In this digitally restored version, the film is reunited with its original audio track in Taiwanese, which was banned on release due to the KMT government's Mandarin policy.
Reel Taiwan: Selected Films from Fragrant Formosa (1970s–80s)
Shot on 16mm film, the Taiwanese documentary television series Fragrant Formosa consists of 34 episodes; the first season was aired on Taiwan's China Television Company (CTV) in 1975, and the second season at the end of 1980. They are considered important Taiwanese ‘local documentaries’ for their historical and cultural values.
Thanks to the continued efforts of the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute (TFAI), the series has re-emerged in digitised form after years of silence, with some of the episodes fully restored. In this programme, we select nine episodes featuring Taiwanese local traditions, folk cultures, indigenous communities, and common people’s occupations, offering the viewer a glimpse at the norms and values of Taiwanese mainstream society of a bygone era.
A Day at the Central Market (Digital Restoration)
Heroes with No Name: Coal Miners in Ruifang
Legends of the Sun Moon Lake
The Homecoming Pilgrimage of Dajia Mazu (Digital Restoration)
CHENG Ching-chuan, LIAO Hsien-sheng
When Mullet Come (Digital Restoration)