Literature Review and the Research Framework
The case study selected for this chapter is the Golden Harvest Awards, an annual film award established by the Government Information Office (GIO) in 1978 to encourage the production of short films and documentaries. Prior to democratization, the Golden Harvest Awards only accepted 16 mm and 8 mm works and had merely a handful of categories. After 1989, it began accepting videos in addition to 16 mm and 8 mm films.4 Video became a prominent medium during the process of liberalization in the 1980s, used by dissidents and independent filmmakers to record and disseminate alternative audiovisual materials and views not covered by the mainstream media.5 This indicates that the Golden Harvest Awards have gradually evolved from a closed and activity controlled by the authorities into a more open and film expert-oriented event. However, their public profile remained low until recent years, when the increasing number of award categories, related workshops, and public screenings has attracted much more attention and wider participation from college students from both inside and outside Taiwan. More details about the Golden Harvest Awards will be discussed in the next section.
In the context of Taiwanese film festival studies, scholarly output is scarce, especially on the Golden Harvest Awards.6 During its history of nearly four decades, the Awards have been briefly referenced in a limited number of publications that look at Taiwanese documentaries and short films.7 Apart from annual program booklets, lengthy writings dedicated to the subject are rare. One postgraduate dissertation appeared in 2011.8 The Film Appreciation Journal also commissioned a special report on the Awards’ 2011 nominated films.9
On the other hand, alongside the sudden growth of film festivals since the late 1990s, there has been an increasing discourse on local film festivals. This discourse has been primarily produced by Taiwan’s festival insiders, including festival organizers, members of juries, filmmakers, critics, journalists and bloggers.10 Many such writings are anecdotal, informational and sometimes policy-oriented with practical suggestions. A distinctive characteristic of the Golden Harvest Awards is that Taiwan’s film festival insiders—especially the festival directors and appointed judges of the Golden Harvest Awards—often hold a teaching position in the film departments of colleges and universities. This has two important implications for the configuration of Taiwan’s film festival circuit.
First, the division between festival observers and festival insiders can be blurred. As the perspectives of stakeholders are less diversified, it is easy for the island’s film festival circuit to turn inward and become self- perpetuating. This does not mean that the local film festivals are fixated only on exhibiting Taiwan cinema or Chinese-language cinema. Far from it—in fact, many film festivals in Taiwan prominently feature non-Chinese- language cinema and filmmakers from outside Taiwan. In this regard, the Golden Harvest Awards are unique, as their main purpose is to encourage locally produced short film projects and local talents.11 However, as a significant number of festival insiders are Western-trained filmmakers and researchers (who also teach film studies and film production in Taiwan), the island’s film festival circuit becomes a network of members who share tacitly similar views, values and experiences directly or indirectly informed by the traditions of European art-house cinema. The concept of “festival films” has been keenly observed on film festival screens in Taiwan: “Never only or purely local, festival films nonetheless circulate ... with a cachet of locally inscribed difference and globally ascribed commonality. They both attest to the uniqueness of different cultures and specific filmmakers and affirm the underlying qualities of an ‘international cinema.’”12 In practice, local organizers and audiences generally interpret the term “festival films” as excellent (in other words, award-winning), foreign, art-house movies that are not produced by Hollywood and not available for domestic theatrical release. In this way, they expect to see such “international cinema” predominating the island’s film festivals.13
Sociologists have pointed out that the strength of “a densely knit clump of social structure”—one where most of the individuals in it are connected with one another through strong personal ties—is that the group can be highly motivated and highly functional.14 I should clarify that “strong ties” quoted here means kinship and close friendship.15 However for the purpose of this chapter, I broaden the definition of “strong ties” to include the teacher-student relationship and professionals who work in the same circle and share similar social networks. In other words, I replace the concept of “strong ties” with what Chinese people call “guanxi.”16
The weakness of a social structure woven through guanxi is that such a group can be less innovative, as the members “will be deprived of information from distant parts of the social system and will be confined to the provincial news and views of their close friends. This deprivation will not only insulate them from the latest ideas and fashions but may put them in a disadvantaged position” in a wider context.17 In a separate but related article on Taiwanese documentaries, Kuo Li-hsin commented on a collective inward-looking quality developed in recent years: “By my observation ... sentimentalism, depoliticized humanitarianism, and the inward-looking trend are dominant characteristics in mainstream Taiwanese documentary culture.. These traits in mainstream documentary culture help construct and reinforce Taiwan as an inward-looking society, further isolated from international communities and with narrower concerns and visions.”18 I believe that discussions among sociologists about the weakness of a “densely knit clump of social structure” may offer a convincing explanation for the phenomenon identified by Kuo.
As festival organizer Wu Fan has admitted, most film festivals in Taiwan do not have regular staff. However, it is often the same core group of people who work from one film festival to another because many are or were film students. Because they once knew each other, it is easy to form a temporary but efficient team at short notice.19 This is the essence of guanxi-, it is not necessarily deliberate exclusion of outsiders, but “strong ties have greater motivation to be of assistance and are typically more easily available.”20
Several experienced practitioners have recognized that many film festivals in Taiwan are strong in serving local cinephiles, but weak in two functions: facilitating dialogue and exchanges between local and international filmmakers, and promoting the Taiwan film industry through the galaxy of film festivals and their associated activities. In other words, local experts feel that as a translation machine, Taiwan’s film festivals may be good at bringing “international” cultures to the locals, but inadequate in translating the local Chinese and Taiwanese cultures to the outside world.21 However, despite perceiving this as a problem for many years, few feel able to suggest solutions—except continuing to seek a bigger budget for organizing more but similar film festivals in the future. As Granovetter has asserted, when “the innovativeness of central units is shackled by vested intellectual interests (or perspectives) then new ideas must emanate from the margins of the network.”22 Therefore, the diversity of membership, as well as the distance the circle can expand through more varied connections, will matter to the long-term survival of Taiwan’s film festivals and its film industry as a whole.
Second, as far as the Golden Harvest Awards are concerned, the closeness between policymakers, film educators, competition participants, and festival insiders allows us to detect a tentative link between the Golden Harvest Awards and Taiwan’s film education and film culture.23 Of course, the formation of a film culture consists of multiple elements and complex networks other than film festivals and film schools at the college level. Moreover, further studies are necessary to ascertain the impact of the Golden Harvest Awards on the island’s filmmakers and the film environment. Nevertheless, throughout the 1970s, the 1980s, and most of the 1990s, there were only two annual film festivals in Taiwan—the two festivals associated with the Golden Horse Awards and the Golden Harvest Awards. The former was designed to encourage high-end achievement within Taiwan’s film industry and was thus largely beyond the reach of students and independent filmmakers. At the end of the twentieth century, the latter became the only platform where the young generations of filmmakers in Taiwan were able to test their skills and artistic vision in a competitive setting. By analyzing the changes and the continuity of the Golden Harvest Awards, it is possible to evaluate their contribution to the development of Taiwan’s film culture, however tenuous the connection may be.
I will first offer an overview of the Golden Harvest Awards in order to understand its structures and components. I then examine the negotiation and power play between different stakeholders in the festival, and how the Awards have become a mediator between various players and social sectors to facilitate the development of Taiwan’s film industry by translating specific elements of Western film knowledge and practices to the local cultural milieu. Furthermore, the development of many new Taiwan-centered film events in recent years has challenged the Golden Harvest Awards to rethink its traditional and specific roles. By exploring the current identity crisis from which the Golden Harvest Awards suffer, the discussion foregrounds the rapidly changing landscape of Taiwan’s film environment, especially the sudden proliferation of Taiwan-related film festivals on and off the island. This identity crisis reveals the anxieties of Taiwan’s cultural agents about the perceived imbalanced translation process from the “local” to the “international” and their deep sense of frustration and uncertainty about how to address these issues.