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A thriving tribe amidst Taiwanese mountains

‘A Year in the Clouds,’ shown at Hoyts Cinema (Sylvia Park) in Auckland on August 23 was a fitting start to the second Annual New Zealand-Taiwan Film Festival.

Organised by the Taiwanese Business Association of New Zealand (TBANZ) and Taiwanese Junior Business Association of New Zealand (TJBANZ), the film (titled, ‘Smamgus’ in Taiwanese) was directed by Dean Johnson and Frank Smith.

Introducing the audience to the indigenous people of Taiwan, the film focused on ‘Tayal tribe’ which lives in the mountainous range of Smangus. The crew spent a year living with the people of the Tayal community capturing moments of their lives and showcasing their lifestyle, unknown perhaps even to many Taiwanese.

Seasons Cycle

As all the four seasons are featured with the film beginning in spring and ending in winter, we can assume that the cycle will repeat and that the lives and activities of people will remain relatively unchanged.

The audience is transported into another realm and taken on a journey across the breath-taking Smangus mountains to witness the Tayal people as they are, and experience a typical year through their eyes.

Although they appear to be no different from other people living in Taiwan with normal human behaviour, it is their dignity and attitude to everyday life that makes them unique, influenced by tribal beliefs and customs.

Amongst the 28 families who live in the serene village, prominent characters in the film are the Village Chief, Ichyeh Sulung, his sons Masay and Lahuy, husband and wife Pinus and Tgbil Ichung and Pinus,’ the beautiful and energetic grandmother (or Yaki), Upax Lesa.

Simple but effective

Each of them has a story to tell, projecting their opinions, thoughts and hopes for the future of their tribe as the camera illustrates their ‘slice-of-life’ scenes.

Whether it is Ichyeh battling lung cancer, Pinus giving birth to a baby girl or Upax teaching schoolchildren about the various types of millet, the simplicity in the way in which the film was shot (neither glorifying nor objectifying the characters) was inspiring. The film makes us feel on a par with their lives, and everything that they experience is automatically shared with us – their joys, sorrows, successes or arguments. The film also portrays serious issues that could potentially harm the future of tribal Taiwan, such as inter-tribal rivalry, food shortage, financial loss and climate change.

Keeping faith

In the shadows of such trials and tribulations, the Tayal community demonstrates that alternative options are available and through their strong Christian faith and prayers, they are able to gather courage and work cohesively through hardships.

There are also opportunities to hear the language of the Tayal, which is unique, sounding different to Mandarin. Though most people in the community are bilingual, they attempt to speak in Tayal as much as they can, especially to the younger generation.

The harmony between man and nature has been prevalent in all aboriginal societies, and hence the attitude the Smangus Tayal have towards their natural surroundings is no different. Although these indigenous people have encountered modern civilisation, they believe that their ancient bonds with nature still exists and that their traditional legends can still lead to their dreams being fulfilled.

Peace with Nature

With beautiful scenery such as towering trees, mountains engulfed by wisps of clouds as well as the flora and fauna, it is easy for viewers to be encapsulated by the splendid nature that Smangus exuberates.

The Smangus Tayal people portrayed in this film are one of the 14 recognised indigenous groups of Taiwan. They are different and are proud in their determination to protect their identity.

Speaking to guests earlier, Lincoln Ting, Director General of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Auckland, said that the Festival accords New Zealanders an opportunity to witness the improvements in the quality of his country’s cultural and artistic activities, including filmmaking.

“Taiwanese movies have earned a high reputation in international film festivals over the past few years. The success has helped in promoting Taiwan in various parts of the world,” he said.

Photo :

A scene from Smamgus- A Year in the Clouds

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