CAS students Betty Xie and David Wang recently won the prize in the Emerging Category of the 2013 Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival’s So You Think You Can Pitch competition for their proposed documentary film, The Home PromisedThe prize allows them to travel to Taiwan this summer to gather footage for the film, which will premiere at the 2014 Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival. They have also recently been awarded a grant from the Faculty of Arts and Science Dean’s International Initiative Fund to help support the film.

The Home Promised focuses on an urban neighbourhood on the brink of demolition – the Shaoxing neighbourhood in Taipei, Taiwan – whose story encapsulates the dilemma faced by a generation of Taiwanese torn between their ideological stance as mainlanders and the reality of losing their long promised home. Shaoxing was settled by Kuomintang (KMT) soldiers who fled to Taiwan seeking refuge from the Chinese Civil War in the 1950s. Now, residents are facing eviction by National Taiwan University (NTU) on the basis of illegal occupation as the university attempts to seize the land for development.

This project seeks to explore the intersection of contested place and disrupted identity through the case of Shaoxing. Rights to this area have become contested between its longtime residents and the National Taiwan University leading to legal action that has sparked questions of politics, identity, and ideology in the region and beyond.

We asked Betty and David to tell us more about their project. Check back soon for updates, or follow along in real time with the filmmakers and crew on facebook and twitter. You can learn more about the project here and watch their Indiegogo campaign video here.

AI: Please provide a brief synopsis of your film.

BX/DW: Inside an urban neighborhood on the brink of demolition in Taipei is the story of a generation of Taiwanese torn between their ideological stance as mainlanders and the reality of losing their long promised home. This is a documentary about identity, displacement, and the sense of belonging.

AI: What inspired this project?

BX/DW: This documentary project is inspired by a chance encounter that Betty had when she was making the documentary Untag Taiwan 2012 with the U of T delegation to the fifth Taiwan Presidential Election. The day before the election, Betty and Aaron Wilson (a former Asia-Pacific Studies student, and current research associate at SURGE) passed by the Shaoxing neighbourhood. They witnessed the changes that the area was undergoing and interviewed residents there. Both the KMT and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) were making campaign promises that they would help the residents of Shaoxing. One thing that a resident said at the time really struck Betty, as it pinpoints the social reality of Taiwan identity politics beyond the often imposed unification/independence binary. The resident said, “Today, I wave the KMT flag. Tomorrow, I wave the DPP flag. In the end, it really doesn’t matter. All we want is to continue living here.”

Since then, Betty has consistently tracked the development of the Shaoxing case. Last year, when she went to Taiwan on an International Course Module research trip (with CAS400Y), she revisited the neighbourhood and found out that the lawsuit between the National Taiwan University and the Shaoxing Neighbourhood was still unsettled.

AI: Why is this project significant?

BX/DW: The project is significant because the Shaoxing case shines light on the gradual dissociation between party affiliation and ideological stance of Taiwanese voters. Therefore, making a documentary on this topic not only raises awareness for the Shaoxing neighbourhood, but also calls for the need to delve into the historical complexity and contingency of Taiwanese identity. This is also why the project is deeply personal to David, who is of Taiwanese heritage. The story of Taiwanese identity politics is also a story of David’s family, who are made up of both mainlanders (waishengren) and home-province people (benshengren).

Beyond Taiwan, we believe the central theme that the project explores – the contemporary notion of “home” – is universally relevant. We want to examine what constitutes home, and how the notion of home is socially and politically constructed. Audience members from all different cultural backgrounds should find these questions important for grasping their own identity.

AI: What does winning the pitch prize mean to you?

BX/DW: Winning the Reel Asian pitch prize is an invaluable encouragement in and of itself, as it recognizes our potential as emerging filmmakers. The making of the documentary would not be possible without the prize package, which includes $2,000 in cash, equipment rental from Charles Street Video, legal and business advice, and the opportunity to premiere the film at the 2014 Reel Asian Film Festival. We are incredibly grateful, as we are well aware that it is extremely difficult for student filmmakers to garner sufficient support to realize their creative vision.

AI: What or where is “home” to you?

BX: Drifting from Guangzhou to Vancouver to Toronto, I am still trying to grasp what is my “home.” At times, “home” seems to be merely an idealized notion that exists in the future tense for us to pursue tirelessly. Yet at other times, “home” is so tangible; it is right there – in the care we receive from those we love the most. Hence, this project is a journey for us to explore the complexity of “home” not only for the Shaoxing residents but also for ourselves.