Whale Island

Taiwan is an island nation surrounded by rich ocean life. But with territorial disputes on their shores, and risky sea journeys made to escape travel restrictions, the sea has become associated with trauma. Writer Liao Hung-chi and oceanic photographer Ray Chin try to return the place of the sea in Taiwanese popular culture back to a place of exploration and wonder.

From the overhead vistas to the undersea splendour, the images caught in Whale Island are just beautiful. They give you a sense of the size and awe of the ocean, and fill you with a childlike urge to set sail.

Both men have the sailor’s dilemma. At home, they think always of the ocean; on the ocean, they think always of home. Ray Chin is quite frank that he finds childrearing draining, and while loving his kids, kinda spends his time with them dreaming of the sea. Liao Hung-chi’s marriage fell apart for this very reason, and he is now trying to reconnect with his daughter as she enters adulthood. There is an open sense of resentment. Liao’s daughter is perfectly aware that he spent his time with her wishing he was out at sea, and seems to have set herself to have nothing to do with the subject as a result. Ray’s kids are too small to say, but you wonder what their opinion will be.

Both men finds the ocean a spiritually nourishing place to be, where their life has the most clarity. Liao takes inspiration for his writing from the sea, and you get the sense that he desperately wants to be able to convey this experience to his daughter. It is always at a distance they feel the pull of their families the most.

Whale Island is about the beauty and awe-inspiring world beneath the waves. It’s about the teeming life in the ecosystems there. It’s also about us, as part of this world, and how we choose to interact with our seas. Do we destroy it, turn our back on it, or bring another generation to it in exploration and celebration?

Sacred Forest

Sacred Forest is a documentary about the rich mountain forests of Taiwan. If you like yer David Attenborough, you’ll like this.

Chen Yufeng describes the evolution of the unique ecosystems of the Taiwanese mountain forests. They host some of the most ancient and largest trees on earth. From fir, juniper, cypress and cedars, down to the orchids that grow on their mossy barks, these forests are a bountiful cradle of beauty. They look like an endless mountain forest from some fairytale. Some of the trees grow up to 100m high. 100ft? No, metres!

The trees themselves live for up to 5000 years. It’s incredible. You see the botanist standing next to this tree, which was a seed at the end of the Neolithic period, and sprouted before the Great Pyramid was built in Egypt. Two generations of such trees would cover 10 millenia, from the Ice Age to today.

Awe-inspiring isn’t really the word. Unfathomable comes closer. In this film you hear from botanists, indigenous people, forest rangers. All have this deep respect for the forest as living heritage, and describe their time there as spiritually moving. Chen, whose life and work are predicated on science, is poetic when describing the forest. He says, “Today, our most powerful telescopes have found neither heaven nor god. Our most advanced electron microscopes have yet to see evidence of the spiritual. Surrounded by nature, I shed my human prejudices and perspectives, and avoid explaining by motivated reasoning.”

For him, these giant trees are all the gods we need. They oversee us, generation after generation, protecting us by rooting the soil, managing the water, and producing the air. Without them, the soil would be washed away, creating landslides onto the valleys below, destroying the human habitations there. It would not only destroy human lives, but land, and the intricate ecosystem they underpin. The ancient trees protect us and protect the forest, and only ask the same of us in return.

A humbling film that reminds you just how fleeting human life is compared to the life of the earth, and how we should not conduct ourselves with hubris in the brief time we have here.