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Bridging Cultural Boundaries, Documentaries Inform American Audiences on Taiwanese Issues

Taiwan Asia

Two American documentaries break down boundaries to understanding Taiwan by presenting the country’s complex political, social, and cultural issues. Island in Between and Invisible Nation document unique Taiwanese issues in the hopes to increase the country's visibility among American audiences.

During a period of unprecedented global attention toward Taiwan, Invisible Nation and Island in Between are documentaries that provide digestible presentations of complex Taiwanese issues to international audiences.

Island In Between

Island In Between is written and directed by Taiwanese American filmmaker S. Leo Chiang, who has a storied filmmaking career focused on representing Asian American stories. Raised in both Taiwan and the United States, Chiang’s current aim for his work is to tell Taiwanese stories to international audiences with the hope of increasing understanding of Taiwan. Chiang made Island In Between in partnership with The New York Times’ Op-Docs, which allowed him to provide the film to American audiences for free and be nominated in the documentary short film category at the 2024 Oscars. Through his documentary, Chiang tries to move the conversations on Taiwan away from its typical detached nature to one that prioritizes the realities of the lived experience in Taiwan.

Chiang takes a novel approach to documentary filmmaking in his choice to include footage of himself, the documentarian, in the film. This documentary is deeply personal to Chiang’s own life, as within the film he discusses his father’s time serving his mandatory military service on the Kinmen Islands, his own decision to move from the United States back to Taiwan, and his decision to shift his filmmaking focus from China to his native Taiwan. Throughout the story, the looming threat of China is documented through shots from Kinmen of Xiamen, which even on camera appears threateningly close. Adding a humanising element to the widely discussed geopolitical dance that Taiwan and China are engaged in, Chiang deconstructs the plethora of feelings that accompanies the Taiwanese lived experience.

Invisible Nation

When Tsai Ing-Wen took up the mantle of the presidency in 2016, Vanessa Hope saw an opportunity to tell Taiwan’s story to the world through this unique world leader. Pushing for unprecedented access to President Tsai, Hope has been able to educate her audience about Taiwan by using President Tsai as a lens through which many of Taiwan’s political, social and cultural issues can be illuminated.

Through Invisible Nation, Hope provides her viewers with foundational information that is crucial to understanding Taiwan. Hope traces Taiwan’s political evolution from the conception of the nation under Chiang Kai-shek to President Tsai’s historic second term. In the documentary, Hope sits down with leaders from both the Democratic People’s Party and the Kuomintang, independent political activists such as Chen Chu and Freddie Lim, and American experts on Taiwan.

Vanessa Hope, the producer and director behind Invisible Nation, is no stranger to Taiwan and its politics. She was inspired to join the foreign policy world after visiting Taiwan in 1996, where she witnessed and filmed the nation’s first direct presidential elections. Now, almost 30 years after her first filming experience, Hope has had extensive experience filming in both China and Taiwan. In an interview, Hope expressed her frustration with the American people’s lack of knowledge on Taiwan, and said that with Invisible Nation, she hoped to get people excited to understand Taiwan. Having had a substantial festival run both in the United States and abroad, Invisible Nation is hoping to be picked up by American streaming services so that their story about Taiwan can reach wider audiences.

Uma Baron is Summer 2024 Young Professional at the East West Center in Washington. Uma is a recent graduate from the University of Edinburgh where she earned an MA Hons in Chinese Studies. Uma previously served as an intern at the Global Taiwan Institute.