ABSTRACT

Introduction This chapter discusses a new development of documentary ethics in Taiwan’s documentary filmmaking. Starting out in close association with social movements in the mid-1980s, Taiwan’s new documentary was born in answer to the call to “give voice to the voiceless people.”1 Documentary ethics is often defined in terms of the representation of the oppressed, marginalized Other. But if documentary filmmaking is considered an ethical action, we see a more complicated expression of documentary ethics in some recent Taiwanese documentary films. Placing the main focus on the ethical relationship between the filmmaker and the filmed subjects, these films ask such troubling ethical questions about the act of documentary filmmaking that the raison d’être of the film is seriously undercut. The concern with ethics is a prominent feature of documentary filmmaking in contemporary Taiwan. Documentaries not only direct the viewer’s attention to marginalized groups and expose social problems that normally go unnoticed, but can also lead the viewer into the most intimate sphere of human relationships and pose very disturbing questions about the act of documentary filmmaking itself. It is exactly because documentaries are believed to exercise such power in the shaping of the body politic and the body private that ethics is often identified as a crucial issue in documentary film discussion in Taiwan. Paradoxically, documentaries that problematize the issue of ethics are often films that ask radical questions about documentary filmmaking and thereby give the films a refreshing, critical edge. In these films, the pivotal question in documentary filmmaking shifts from the question “How can I use my camera to represent them?” to “Should I put down the camera?” This essay provides an analysis of an award-winning documentary film-Somewhere over the Cloud (directed by Mei-ling Hsiao, “Special Mention Award,” 2007 Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival; “Jury Special Mention” award, 2008 Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival)—to illustrate Taiwanese documentarians’ sophisticated critical reflection on documentary ethics.