Q&A: Reflecting Taiwan's LGBTQ Progress in 'Taipei Love' Documentary

Q&A: Reflecting Taiwan's LGBTQ Progress in 'Taipei Love' Documentary
Credit: Reuters

What you need to know

Flush with the success of shooting footage at the Pride parade in Taipei, The News Lens sat down with young German filmmaker Lucie Liu to discuss her vision for 'taipeilove*', a documentary asking how it feels to be gay in Taiwan, both for her protagonists and the people closest to them.

Lucie Liu, 24, is in the midst of filming taipeilove*, a documentary that seeks to answer the fundamental questions: How free, safe and open can gay and lesbian people be in Taiwan and how have social perceptions around their sexuality changed?

Inspired by the event’s of the 2016 Pride parade in Taipei, Munich-born Liu set out to reflect the changes coursing through Taiwan as its LGBTQ community and the society that surrounds it continues its landmark journey towards equality.

For even as the country celebrates the May 24, 2017, decision to lift the constitutional block on same-sex marriage, bringing the party to the streets over the Oct. 28 Pride parade, significant traditional, cultural and religious barriers remain.

Fresh from gathering footage at Pride itself, The News Lens spoke to Liu about the process of putting together a first solo project, and her hopes for the film upon release.

What’s "taipeilove*" about?

It’s about the perception of homosexuality in Taiwanese society. We are going to follow two protagonists and follow their daily lives, and those scenes are going to be framed with interviews with activists, professionals, politicians and experts on the topic. It aims to show how a progressive society can make a change and an impact.

What’s your relationship with Taiwan?

I was here working at the Goethe Institute for several months in 2016, and I had the opportunity to attend a number of film festivals and the Pride parade. At Pride, I saw so many people from all across Asia going wild, dancing and being really happy. It made me wonder why things can’t be like this everywhere — celebrating same-sex love, and that’s what led me to write the script.

Credit: Hector Munoz
taipeilove* filmmaker Lucie Liu.

So the film is a celebration of the situation in Taiwan?

I would say it is a testimony to history in the making. It’s a huge step to have a country under martial law 30 years ago to have made such huge progress,

Who are your protagonists and what were you looking for when searching for them?

One of them is Sarah and the other is Kevin [and his partner David] — both are in relationships but they have very different stories. There might be a third but that’s not yet clear. I was looking for outspoken people willing to share because it is such an intimate topic. I don’t want to force anyone to give an interview. Some people are not out to their parents. That’s a delicate topic.

How do you go about selecting your protagonists?

I do pre-interviews to figure out what they like to do and so we are in a comfortable space. There’s no specific rule — sometimes it is in my house or in a cafe. I am just trying to see if there is chemistry. I worked through other people but some were just not happy with the idea of being on camera. I found Sarah pretty quickly — she’s very outspoken, very progressive and very cool.

I always ask them about their story. Their experiences when they were young, it there was bullying, how their homosexuality was perceived when they came out — why they came out, things like that. Later, if it’s gotten easier to be openly gay in this society.

What are your feelings for the answer to that last question, especially after the May decision on legalization of same-sex marriage?

I think a lot has happened. After martial law was lifted there is now open democracy and you can be open, but there is still a lot more to be done. I asked my characters if the decision on marriage had changed anything for them and they said “It hasn’t. Not at all.” My question was if there was any change in perception and society. There was no change to the way they felt or the way they were treated. The decision came as a huge but happy surprise. I wouldn’t say it’s a golden moment, it’s a huge success and it makes an impact and it makes my film more important — but there’s still a lot to be done. I want to encourage everyone to keep fighting.

Who are some of the people who will be talking around the issue that you mentioned?

One of them will be Jay Lin (林志杰), the founder of the Taipei International Queer Film Festival. Wayne Lin (維尼), who is chairman of the Taiwan Tongzhi (LGBT) Hotline Association, and Jennifer Lu (呂欣潔), a very outspoken activist. She’s amazing — I filmed her at Pride last weekend. There will be others but they are not yet confirmed.

How was the experience of shooting at Pride?

Incredible. First, I am a young filmmaker and that was my first time out shooting. Second, it was a huge success. The weather was beautiful and there were so many people — I think 118,000. Compared with last year’s 80,000, that’s huge. We got some beautiful footage. So many happy people dancing and we had a lot of people kissing in front of the camera. We shot a lot of balloons and flags in composition. We had some wide angle shots, but for the introduction I’m also looking for details. I was really happy as my protagonists were there and I was able to shoot them as a way into the introduction for the documentary.

People talk about it but it’s as if nothing happened and people come back and ask when you are going to get married, if you are lesbian when you’re going to find a guy and have children.

One of the questions the documentary seeks to answer is how free, safe and open society is in Taiwan. How directly are you addressing the issue of how safe people feel?

I just ask them. It’s a lot about tradition and culture. One girl told me that you don’t ask and you don’t tell. Even if you say that you are gay, people will use go along with their lives and not really acknowledge the fact. There’s no huge safety problem. People won’t get attacked so they can be physically safe. People talk about it but it’s as if nothing happened and people come back and ask when you are going to get married, if you are lesbian when you’re going to find a guy and have children.

What challenges have you faced in getting the film together?

I planned on coming with a German Director of Photography but there were huge problems. We decided to go different ways. That was sad, as I had kind of relied on him and I thought we could work it out. At some point I realized I was here by myself. I have wonderful friends though and I spoke to four or five DOPs and now I am working with a really talented young Taiwanese man, Zed Wang (王治德). You need to get along, and the budget plays a huge role, and we need to speak the same language when it comes to ideas.

What’s one key thing you have learned?

I should have gotten a producer. This is the key lesson. Right now I’m doing everything myself. I talked to a friend and he told me if I’m going to crowd fund then I need social media accounts, so I’m working on that.

What kind of atmosphere are you trying to create?

The interviews with the protagonists are going to be very dynamic. I will have three different scenes: one is very intimate, in their home cooking, with very calm interviews. One is outside because I want to put them in a space where they are really comfortable. Sarah wants to go surfing in Yilan. The third one is we either talk to one of their family members or we accompany them to work and share their experiences there — if they are out at work or if they don’t talk about it. We will just shoot them with a voiceover. We are shooting on a Blackmagic camera, which is a beautiful camera that gives the image soul, and we are shooting in 4K.

Will you talk to family or workmates as well?

Yes — and I’m very excited about that.

Obviously very sensitive topics and a lot of trust is required. How does that feel?

It made me realize what a huge project I started. I don’t think I realized how big it was or what kind of impact it will have. To me as a German I’d like to address the German audience and show them what’s possible. The German government recently approved same-sex marriage on Oct. 1, so that’s a huge change. It’s been legislated — there were civil partnerships but now they can get married and have absolute equal rights. A very famous politician that I know personally, Volker Beck, has been fighting for this for 30 years. He’s an incredible persona and seeing him win this fight is incredible and I hope Taiwanese society will come to the same point in the next few years a well.

Is part of the impact you want to have to raise awareness of Taiwan and this issue back home in Germany?

I was really sad, surprised and shocked in May as regards the decision with Article 972 [the definition of marriage in Taiwan’s Civil Code], because there was so little media coverage in Germany. There was almost nothing. Just one or two in German on the issue. Taiwan is not acknowledged enough, especially when it comes to that topic. Germany has been fighting as well for the last 30 years, so why not join forces? People don’t really know Taiwan exists — when I was leaving people said “Have fun in Thailand.” The media really doesn’t help by not covering it. I’d like to portray a very progressive, young society that has been fighting for a long time, and I’d love to show a wider German audience how this society made a huge change. I don’t know what impact we will make but if only a few people see the movie then it’s an incredible journey and I got to meet many interesting and inspiring people.

What’s the timelines for completion of the film?

We are shooting now and I plan to finish my mid-December and post-production will start in January. We are working on the trailer, and that will help us launch a crowd funding campaign to do post-production in Taiwan.

And if people can’t wait to see it?

If people want to check out our Instagram it’s “TaipeiLove_thedocumentary”. There will be messages of support from activists all round the world and you can follow our process of shooting and follow us on our adventure. I’m trying to reach a bigger audience and I think Facebook an Instagram is the way to do that.