Atayal director Chen Jieyao didn't know her aboriginal name until she was 30 years old, and learned the ethnic language from amateur actors when filming "Hayong Family", never limiting her own path, reversing the public's stereotype of aborigines!

"I am an Atayal director, in our previous culture, adult girls had to be able to weave, I couldn't weave, but I would use movies instead of knitting, I want to say to Atayal children, there are different ways to continue our spirit and values!"

When director Chen Jieyao won the Golden Horse Award for Best Director in 2022, she said this speech on stage, which touched countless audiences. This journey to find her roots through filmmaking allowed her to better understand who "herself" is and determine the story she wants to tell.

Chen Jieyao's past two works "Different Moonlight" and "As Long as I Grow Up" also tell the story of indigenous people, but this time "Hayong Family" contains more diverse topics, including electoral culture, exotic love, unwed motherhood, the conflict between traditional and modern values, etc., allowing the audience to understand the life of indigenous people and the dilemmas faced by contemporary times through the film.

Image| "Hayong House"

Use what you are good at to tell diverse stories

Although director Chen Jieyao has shot many video works related to indigenous issues, in fact, she did not expect that she would deepen this theme.

Whenever she introduced herself as an Aboriginal, others would be curious about the identity, but at that time she did not have a deep understanding of Aboriginal culture.

"I hid the idea of wanting to understand the family culture and didn't know how to approach it."

When she was studying in the Shixin Film Department in college, she began to intern in the crew by chance, and then worked next to director Cai Liangliang and director Qu Youning. After making films for seven or eight years, she learned that the aboriginal television station was established, and she thought that "the time has come", so she decided to work at the aboriginal film station, taking this as an opportunity to start understanding aboriginal culture.

After starting to shoot Aboriginal-related works, she found that she had a deep connection with the subject and decided to find her roots through images, and at the same time let everyone know Aboriginal culture.

"I asked my mom when I was 30 to find out I had a family name, Laha Mebow, and I always thought I didn't," she laughs.

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Image courtesy of | Chen Jieyao

Director Chen Jieyao recalled that in 2008, she launched a root-seeking activity with several young people from the Tribal Community Development Association, climbing the mountains to find her grandmother's hometown.

"The Atayal are a high-mountain people, but they were forced to move down the mountain in the 47th year of the Republic of China, and we are the only Atayal people in Taiwan at the foot of the mountain."

Recalling this journey to find roots, director Chen Jieyao revealed that although the process was very tiring and painful, after climbing the mountain, I was very shocked to see where my grandmother and father used to live, and it was a very powerful thing to see my roots.

Director Chen Jieyao has since connected the broken past and found an important message that she wants to convey to the public, so she translates culture and life experience through images, linking the social empathy that has been broken.

What I want to say is the story of Taiwanese families

"I want the public to treat indigenous people as regular ethnic groups."

Talking about Taiwan's discussion of indigenous issues, director Chen Jieyao helplessly said that the public will have an established imagination of indigenous people, but she does not want to strengthen these "differences", but hopes to create "common feeling".

Especially in the area of filmmaking, it is still difficult to attract the general audience with Aboriginal themed films, who feel that the Aboriginal stories have nothing to do with them, so they do not want to watch them.

Although the protagonist of "Hayong House" is an aboriginal, it is actually a "family story". The clip of the grandson "Enoch" taking care of his grandfather in the movie, the conversation between "Yuli" and her husband arguing over the family's financial situation, and the struggle of "Ali" returning home from a job in New Zealand to become pregnant out of wedlock... These are all stories we often hear around us, and even the reality we have personally experienced.

"I think Taiwanese people don't know very well about the aborigines, most people still have an imagination, for example, when it comes to aboriginal movies, people may want me to make an aboriginal inspirational film, want to see the process of aborigines' struggle, aborigines are very pitiful stories."

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Image courtesy of | Chen Jieyao

Director Chen Jieyao did not want to fall into these stereotypes, so she spent a lot of time observing the life of indigenous families, trying to make the general audience interested in indigenous people.

"Like the English title of "Hayong's Family" this time is 'GAGA', many people don't understand what the meaning is, and they tell me what they think they mean, whether they are right or not, I think it's a good sign that this matter has been discussed."

The English title of "Hayong Family" "GAGA" is an Atayal language, which means outlook on life and value, which can be interpreted as norms, customs, taboos, etc. in modern terms.

Learning the language from amateur actors, we opened up to each other's horizons

"I learn the language from the actors, and they see from me how to get along with others, and that's the process of learning from each other."

Director Chen Jieyao re-experienced the life of the aborigines from the process of leaving the city and going up the mountain to make films, and she almost did not know the ethnic language, learning from some young amateur actors, this process is not only to re-understand the family language, but also to achieve the precious experience of communication between two generations.

Take Zhang Zujun, who played "Enoch" in "The Hayong Family", as an example, before shooting the movie, she had already filmed a documentary featuring him.

"Zu Jun used to feel very hesitant, when he went to school before, he didn't know how to get along with other people, he was very sensitive to the sounds around him, and it was difficult to adapt to that environment, so he stopped studying."

But through filming, director Chen Jieyao let him contact many people, and thus opened his horizons, "He has a lot of choices in life, and then he can choose what he wants to do." When running the film festival, she observed that Zhang Zujun would learn from the side and improve his abilities, including typhoons when speaking, how to win the respect of others, and so on.

(Read more: Is the extra score for the Aboriginal test a privilege or discrimination?)

Picture| stills from "Hayong's House"

Storytelling and self-development do not need to be limited

Director Chen Jieyao said with a smile that he has been an "unexpected" child since he was a child.

"I'm not a particularly lively person, but when I was a junior, I whimsically decided to act with my classmates, from screenwriting and rehearsal, and the teachers were surprised that I would do it."

Through this performance, the teachers discovered her talent in acting, and also saw her action and courage. But in her opinion, the relatively free growth process has taught her never to set limits on herself, no matter what field, she has the courage to challenge.

She also added another childhood story, "I don't know why, I have often been appointed as a class leader since elementary school, but I obviously rarely speak, and I don't feel that I have leadership style and know how to give instructions." After a pause of a few seconds, she suddenly realized, "It may be my calm typhoon, I have been trained in typhoons since I was a child, and I have a 'leadership temperament'."

Until now, director Chen Jieyao still does not think that she is suitable to be a leader, but whenever a task is given to her, the enthusiasm and sense of responsibility in her heart often bring new energy to her work partners, make films, and create stories that can convey important messages without limits through different storytelling methods within limited resources.

Image courtesy of | Chen Jieyao

After making three Aboriginal-themed films in a row, director Chen Jieyao revealed that she will shoot the stories of women of different generations, as well as another supernatural and suspenseful story that was developed with New Zealand three or four years ago.

Keen to challenge new things, she also looks forward to developing abroad, and looks forward to combining with different industries and communicating with different people, so that she can accumulate new experience and vision, and continue to move forward on the road of "embracing differences and breaking the box"!