文 | 鍾適芳 / 2017當代敘事影展策展人
去年此時，「2016當代敘事影展：邊界。世界」正緊鑼密鼓，諾貝爾文學獎公佈巴布．狄倫（Bob Dylan）獲獎。影展閉幕後，人們還爭論著狄倫作品的文學性，李歐納．柯恩（Leonard Cohen）帶著他獨有的低沈嗓音以及他洞穿世事的詩意，離開人世。冬天還沒過完，藝評家也是詩人的約翰．伯杰 （John Berger），也隨著柯恩，在另一個時空，繼續旅行與相遇。
「2017當代敘事影展」以柯恩的歌《Bird on the Wire 鳥在弦上》為題，紀念那歌謠言明真理的時代，也期待時代之聲，繼續領我們手牽手。主題單元「時代與歌」呈現亞洲、美洲、到北非，不同時地的民謠運動與抗爭。歌謠作為傳聲筒與利劍，歌者冒著受迫害之險，在噤聲之地大聲唱和，鼓吹掌權者恐懼的信念。
1970年代的泰國，極權統治下的兩次大規模民眾抗爭，都起於曼谷中心幾所大學串連的學潮。學生與民眾的力量，透過刊物、美術、歌謠、集會等各種形式發散與凝聚，影像當然也是重要的武器。今年的開幕片《桐潘》（Tongpan），正是當年參與1973學運，志願下鄉服務的大學生的集體創作。他們以湄公河域水壩興建，政府強徵農地為敘事背景，以劇情式紀錄片（docudrama）的形式，講述泰國東北農民在鶴唳風聲的「反共」思想控制下，三餐不繼的每日。此片完成後，被指宣揚社會主義、同情泰共，遭長期禁演。直至2006年解禁後，才首次以VCD形式發行。在泰國影評人、《桐潘》製作團隊，以及泰國電影資料館（Thai Film Archive）的協助下，我們才能將這部珍貴的黑白長片，帶到台灣做首次放映。
《桐潘》的導演之一，也是泰國「生活之歌」（Pleng Phua Cheewit）民歌歌系的先驅蘇拉猜．芽．卡拉凡（Surachai “Nga Caravan”），將在影展開幕場，以他不間斷的詩謠之流，匯聚台灣民歌運動先行者楊祖珺、為反水庫行動返鄉唱作的林生祥、馬來西亞少數以歌謠針貶時政的唱作人阿茲米．由諾（Azmyl Yunor）。他們將站在同一個舞台上，以各自的語言唱著不同時代，卻信念相通的歌。
We Have to Keep Singing
Chung Shefong | Curator, 2017 New Narratives Film Festival
L ast autumn, at the time of the 2016 New Narratives Film Festival, there was much news to digest in the world of art and performing artists. Bob Dylan had won the Nobel Prize for literature, with debates immediately commencing as to whether his work merited the prize or even qualified as literature. Then Leonard Cohen, the singer with that distinctive baritone voice, whose lyrics elevated poetic truths, passed away. Before winter had set in, we lost the beloved poet and art critic John Berger. May the souls of Leonard and John meet and soar on their next journey.
We dedicate this year’s program to celebrating the work of these artists. Thanks to them, we are able to better understand the world and to have confidence in our collective values. Dylan, Cohen and Berger have inspired us to imagine the possibility of peace in the world, as John Lennon famously asked us to do.
Yet, to "imagine" seems harder than ever. Today's meaningful songs and poems are drowning in a sea full of noise and confusion. In these “modern times,” we have returned to isolation, discrimination, conflict, violence. It almost feels as if the Great March on Washington in 1963 led by Martin Luther King Jr. never even happened.
The title theme for the 2017 NNFF is “Bird on the Wire.” This is to commemorate the era of Leonard Cohen’s signature song, an era where poets and singers brought us closer to the truths of the world, be they existential or political. We hope that in looking back, we can look forward to the songs and sounds of today, and press on together, hand in hand.
The “Birds on a Wire” is the main feature series of this year’s film program. It looks at how folk and rock music connects with popular social movements and protests through documentaries about musicians from Asia, the Americas and North Africa. These films show us how a singer can wield the folk song as a megaphone and a sword; how a singer can face persecution and danger; and how a singer can instill fear within those who hold power.
In a not-so-distant previous era, it was forbidden to speak freely in Taiwan. In the 1970s, while the country was in the midst of martial law, Taiwanese youth were nourishing themselves on American pop music, which quietly germinated the seeds of anti-authoritarian thinking. It was during this time that TC Yang, then a young university student, heard an appeal from pioneering folk singer José Lee (Lee Shuang-tze): it’s time to sing our own songs, to sing songs with real meaning. This was Yang’s awakening. She became a prominent singer within the “campus folk song” movement, moving on to performing for audiences in factories and prisons. She then found herself running an underground pro-democracy magazine. Songs and words, sung and shouted through a megaphone, were her weapons in a fight for freedom. Today, 40 years later, Yang has commemorated those times by directing her first film, “Salute, José Lee,” a documentary tribute to the father of the modern Taiwanese folk song. We are honored that Yang has offered to let us screen a rough cut of the film, which is in post-production at the time of this printing.
In truth, singers like TC Yang and José Lee were exceptions, and Taiwan’s “campus folk songs” fell short when it came to criticizing authority and advocating for social justice. Nevertheless, the “sing our own songs” movement provided inspiration for students in Singapore, who created “Xinyao” music. This brand of folk songs was also sung in Mandarin Chinese, and highlighted the complicated history of Singapore’s language policy. The country’s last Chinese-speaking university, Nanyang University, was shut down in 1980 because of a new government policy that made English the “first language” of instruction in all schools. The country’s leaders made the move partly out of fear that Mandarin would facilitate the importation of unwanted leftist thought onto college campuses. But the reality was that the students were simply holding onto a language they spoke all their lives, and could use to truly express themselves. Thus, the Xinyao movement was born, and Eva Tang tells the story of the origin of this music in her documentary “The Songs We Sang”, a film that resonates with Yang’s film on Jose Lee, and offers a glimpse at the Cold War era’s effects on Southeast Asia.
We also look at the 1970s in Thailand, which are marked by two major mass protests against the totalitarian regime of the time. The movement was led by a network of university students in Bangkok who deployed every available media tool to fight the military dictatorship. Film was a natural weapon. This year’s opening film, “Tongpan,” is an extremely rare documentary from 1973, created by students that participated in the historic mass protests of the same year. Filmed as a docu-drama, “Tongpan” tells the story of how the government seized rural land in northeastern Thailand to build a section of the Mekong Dam, and how local opposition formed as a result. After its completion, the film was banned by Thai authorities for containing "socialist" and "communist" ideas. Wider access to “Tongpan” wasn’t available until 2006, when it was released on VCD. Thanks to the efforts of the filmmakers and the Thai Film Archive, we are able to show this precious document, filmed in black and white, for the first time ever in Taiwan.
One of the directors in the collective that made “Tongpan” happens to be the father of Thai folk rock, Surachai “Nga Caravan.” Nga, who was one of the pioneers of “Pleng Phua Cheewit” (songs about common people) and is also a writer, will attend the opening screening and perform his songs. Also performing will be the aforementioned TC Yang; Lin Shengxiang, who started his career an anti-dam activist and is Taiwan’s most prominent folk musician today; and Azmyl Yunor, a folk-rock musician from Malaysia, and one of rare artists in that country who sings about topical issues. We look forward to seeing these artists taking turns on the same stage, singing in different languages, but connected by shared ideals and beliefs.
Of particular note, Nga cast a significant influence upon a Taiwan social movement long ago. His early recordings provided inspiration for the album “Let Us Sing Mountain Songs” (1999) by Lin Shengxiang’s first band, Labor Exchange, which was formed to support the anti-dam movement in Meinung, in southern Taiwan. That album played a role in bringing popular attention to the Meinung anti-dam movement, but the battle continues in Thailand. Dam projects along the Mekong River have continued since the 1960s, creating serious ecological damage and impacting the livelihoods of countless riverside communities, where fisherman no longer catch anything, and farmers have run out of land to till. Thus the story of “Tongpan” remains unfinished, and the songs must carry on. At least Nga’s message has received mainstream recognition. In 2013, at the age of 60, he was named one of Thailand’s “National Artists,” one of the country’s highest arts honors, for his writings. This accolade attests to holding steadfast to one’s beliefs, and is indeed heartening news for those who continue to support the anti-Mekong dam movement. As Nga famously wrote: “Our water comes from the mountaintop, upon which all living things rely...to see overgrown forests, now this is a beautiful world -- this is the path of nature.”
While compiling the films for this year’s program, this line from the poem “Stray Birds,” by Rabindranath Tagore, kept coming to mind:
“The world has kissed my soul with its pain, asking for its return in songs.”
Tagore probably intended this line to part of a meditation on love. But I also hear this line resonating in the worlds portrayed in this year’s festival program. Each film offers us a view from above, seen from beneath a bird’s wing.
On behalf of the NNFF production team, I would like to express my deep gratitude to the Taipei City Hakka Affairs Commission for their support. We are grateful to the Commission for allowing us to strive to create a public film festival, one which we hope escapes the conventional traps of nostalgia commonly associated with celebrations of ethnicity in Taiwan. With NNFF, we are trying to offer viewers a different lens to view the world, one in which there is room for truth that transcends polarization and mindless acceptance of economic globalization. Given their history, the Hakka in Taiwan are well suited to provide such a platform, for they are familiar with oppression when it comes to language and identity and understand the value of the freedom of expression. As the Hakka Cultural Park oversees the continual rebirth of “Hakka Culture,” every film and song presented in this festival has been chosen to commemorate what has been lost, and to shed light on what freedoms have yet to be achieved.