Making of 'Voices of Hakka Women'
“The way each poem was written and visualized is a way that will stick with the viewer for quite some time.” – Asian Feedback Film Festival, Toronto
Ya-Ling Peng and I first collaborated in 2017 when I recited part of a poem that Ya-Ling was presenting at the Magdalena International Women in Performance festival in Argentina. In 2021, Ya-Ling wrote and recited a poem as part of my online performance ‘Be Like Body––Obsolete #4’, presented in 4 international festivals. VOICES OF HAKKA WOMEN, initiated by Ya-Ling, is our third collaboration, started during the pandemic. We changed dates and schedules several times, according the quarantine regulations, and some chaos in life events. Ya-Ling worked for more than 20 years with her company, Uhan Shii Theatre group, composed of Hakka women. She nurtured them to challenge cultural norms and taboos. The assistance of a psychiatrist in the rehearsal studio helped them transform trauma into art, focusing on the historical practice of girls being ‘adopted’ into servitude or slavery. Much has changed in the last 50 years, but Hakka women are still fighting for status and it is timely to have their creative voices brought into contemporary culture and shared around the world trough a video.
We first met online early 2022, with Yeh Yeh and James Cunningham, our collaborators, to work on the translations in English, French and Mandarin. I dispatched the text to Spanish and Portuguese translators, and asked a few French translators to correct the French version. Then, text were sent to 3 actresses for each language, who read and sent me back their recorded voices. Mandarin is read only by one person, Ya-Ling herself. I began editing the voices in August, a month before going to Taiwan, layering them, making a chorus.
When James and I arrived in Taiwan in September 2022, we still had to spend a week in self-managed quarantine. As soon as we could go outside, Ya-Ling and Yeh Yeh took us around Taipei and in the countryside, to dive in the local cultures. The hospitality was extraordinary.
We interviewed the poets, who recited their text in Hakka. We met many people who were involved with Uhan Shii company, and documented 4 shows presented in a beautiful 200 yr-old Hakka house in Guanxi village, HsinChu County.
Most weeks, we were travelling daily, visiting an artist or an inspiring place or discovering amazing landscapes. It was a very special time.
When we returned to Australia, James and I continued our collaboration online with Ya-Ling and Yeh Yeh, to complete the first draft before end of November.
Throughout the project, I asked myself: why am I making a film about women from another culture? After some thoughts, I realised how much trauma inflicted to children is something that moves me deeply, trauma which still ripples through generations. I connect somehow with my parents who were hidden children during world war 2 and also with the Aboriginal stolen generation which was dispersed in ‘white educated’ families. Ya-Ling and I decided with the 6 poets to dedicate the film to women and girls fighting for fairness and justice.
The video has been finalised in February 2023 with five versions: Hakka-English, Hakka-French, Hakka-Spanish, Hakka-Portuguese and Hakka -Mandarin, and has been submitted to festivals. So far it has been Finalist of Her Vision Film Festival, Toronto’s Asian Feedback Film Festival, Women’s International Film Festival and Special Mention from Asia South East Short Film Festival.
Trailers: English 2min | 1min ; French 2min | 1min ; Spanish 2min | 1min ; Portuguese 2min | 1min ; Mandarin 2min | 1min
Photos by Yeh Yeh and Suzon Fuks