By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Joyce Jeng, chief film festival organizer for the first-ever Seattle Taiwanese American Film Festival, grew up watching Pixar features. She grew up in San Jose, Calif., and enjoyed picking out the references in Pixar films to the nearby town of Emeryville, which just happens to be Pixar’s hometown. But her turning point towards world cinema came from a much more obscure title.
In eighth grade, she checked out a VHS cassette tape from her local library, a French film called “La fracture du myocarde” (“Broken Heart”). “It was about a group of 12-year-old schoolchildren who tried to conceal the fact that Martin, one of their friend’s mother, has died, so that Martin would not be sent away,” said Jeng.
“I remember really being moved by the children’s creativity and their bond of friendship displayed in the movie … I can still recall clearly some of the scenes from it because of the intricate plot twists and the genuine friendship portrayed by the young actors.”
Jeng moved to Seattle in 2009. The idea for a Seattle Taiwanese American Film Festival came to her a year and a half ago, when she traveled to Taiwan and met an organizer there for the Vancouver Taiwanese Film Festival (TWFF), which got started 12 years ago.
Another organization, Taiwanese American Professionals Seattle (TAP-Seattle), had the idea of putting on a festival on American soil to partner up with TWFF. Jeng agreed to be in charge in Seattle, although she clarified that “instead of doing just a Taiwanese Film Festival, we decided on doing a Taiwanese American Film Festival. In addition to making Taiwan more known to the public through film, we also want to provide Taiwanese American filmmakers an avenue for showcasing their talents, as we are a Taiwanese American group, rather than just a Taiwanese group.”
The organizers for the new festival sorted through some 50-odd titles. They settled on seven feature-length films, bolstered with five short films, some from Taiwan, some made by Taiwanese Americans.
“The qualities we looked to the most,” Jeng explained, “are the quality of the plot (did it tell a good story), the depth of the plot (does the plot reveal new insights or allow the viewer to ponder further), and whether if the film reflects Taiwanese cinema, as we want to bring films that are authentically Taiwanese to the Seattle audience.”
Two of the directors will fly in from Taiwan to appear alongside their films. Li-chou Yang spent 10 years filming his documentary called “Father,” a study of a son’s struggle to get out from under the shadow of his father, a famous Taiwanese glove puppeteer.
The other guest director, Charlie Chu, survived a seemingly insurmountable health crisis, when he was diagnosed with a fist-sized brain tumor. He survived, though he was left with damage to both his hearing and eyesight.
Chu’s film, “Formosa 3D,” is the only 3D film in the new festival, and like “Father,” it took 10 years to finish, owing both to Chu’s health problems and the complexities of 3D camera work. It studies Taiwan’s main island, known for centuries as Formosa, emphasizing natural beauty and local crafts at risk of disappearing from the modern world.
Jeng was quick to thank her collaborators and partners for this new festival. “Eric Chang is executive director and programmer. Angel Hsu is our press relations and marketing director, Carlene Liu is our volunteers coordinator, and Jerome Chen is our finance director.
“Charles Liu is our webmaster. We also have Jeff Wei, Andy Chung, Olivia Zen, and Arthur Cheng, who are TAP board members who helped on various film festival-related activities.”
When asked about her hopes for future film festivals, Jeng jokes that the “first” in “First Annual” is factual, and the “Annual” is aspirational.
“We believe,” she concluded, “that these films are what the community would be interested in seeing, and [that] having a platform to showcase Taiwanese films and Taiwanese American filmmaking talents will benefit Seattle in enriching its diversity and enhancing Seattleites’ understanding of Taiwan.
“The support we have received so far is evidence that many members of the community share the same belief. Now it’s just a matter of getting an audience to the festival see the realization of that belief.”
The inaugural Seattle Taiwanese American Film Festival plays June 29-July 1 at Seattle’s SIFF Uptown Cinema. For prices, showtimes, and other information, visit
Andrew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.