LalaTai arranged a small talk with the director of Small Talk (pun intended), Huang Hui Chen. This new documentary has recently been awarded Best Documentary Film at this year’s Teddy Awards. In addition, The Priestess Walks Alone (2016), which is a shorter cut of the same mother-daughter story, also received the Jury Award at the South Taiwan Film Festival and won the Outstanding Short Film Award at the Golden Harvest Film Festival.
To read the first part of the interview click here.
“This work is not only about LGBT issues, but more about family and mother-daughter relationships. I am glad that this kind of story happened in my family so I had the chance to write it down.” -- Huang Hui Chen
Small Talk official poster.
6. Your mother said that if LGBT people could get married, she would not get married. Judging from this quote, do you think marriage equality has any influence on her?
My mother has not changed at all since the marriage equality bill passed. She knows herself pretty well. She said even if she could start her life again, she would not get married and have children. I agree with her (Laughing) because she is not very motherly. I once asked her, “what do you think about marriage equality?”, and she replied, “they want to get married, so let them get married”. She thinks that there is no meaning in marriage, so she doesn’t really believe in it.
Marriage is a regulation established by mankind, it makes no sense that you prevent others to get married. I also think the biggest beneficiary of marriage is the country since married people tend to work harder for their family stimulating the economic growth. This way, the government can also control people easily. So, if the biggest beneficiary of marriage is the country, why doesn’t allow everyone to get married?
On the other hand, if someone doesn’t get married, no one should point at him/her and say “why haven’t you got married?” Especially telling women that if you don’t marry or have a child, then you have failed in life. I think it is not until nobody else thinks this way that we can have genuine marriage equality.
Even the marriage equality bill has passed, the LGBT movement shouldn’t stop. There are still plenty of problems that need to be fixed. I think single and unmarried people should also be protected. We cannot discriminate based on marital status.
The director and her mother during the "conversation at the table" scene.
7. During the filming process, sometimes your mother gently refused to talk to you and excused herself. Sometimes she kept silent or urged you to quickly finish the interview. During the conversation you have at the table, she even protested and asked “why you didn’t ask me this before you started shooting?”. Eventually, she let you finish the film. Why do you think she changed her mind?
One of the editors from the crew said something to me after watching the conversation scene several times. He said: “actually, your mother has answered your questions about loving you or not by her actions. If she did not love you, why would she sit there for 3 hours and say nothing?” She could have left whenever she wanted.
The conversation at the table is the final scene of the film. My mother was filmed for more than a year. But on that day, she suddenly asked: “you want to film this, why didn’t you ask me at the beginning?” I understood. Her reaction was some kind self-defense device. Up until that scene, I had already asked all the questions except the one. So, when she came home and saw there were 3 cameras and several sets of lights, she knew what was going to happen. And then she said “I know you hate me” just to provoke me. I told myself: I am here to tell you I do not hate you.
"For me, love is abstract and complicated. Yet I know that my mother does love me. That means everything to me."
8. Following on the last question, how about you? During the filming process, you forced yourself to face your family history to find peace. Did you ever feel you could not continue the shooting?
The process was pretty hard. After 14 years, I had the money and a crew, but it was still hard for me. Yet I never gave up, because once I gave up, it would become more painful. At this age, I have seen friends and family members die, and I know I do not want to have any regrets in the end. When you leave your parents, you no longer have the chance to say some things. I know this is not what I wanted. After we finished the shooting, we continue fighting with each other, and our relationship became even worse. But, at least, it was my own choice.
9. From the past to the present, many labels have been attached to you due to your unique family background. How do you deal with these labels?
When I was still young, it was painful to face the critiques, I was in a stage of figuring out who I am. And now I think that either the labels are already gone or, maybe, that even though they are still there I can fully embrace them. I think now I know myself much better than before and I have accepted the labels that accompany me. I also label myself. For example, I am a mother (laughing) but, as I mentioned, at this moment I already know who I am, so if I was attached any labels, the feelings might not be that strong as before. I only feel like: I was born this way, so what?
I think everyone is born with the same mission: to know yourself and the connection between you and society. I also hope I can approach my relationship with my daughter the same way too: before she figures out who she really is, I should not put any label on her. I should give her some space to find out who she really is, because you cannot stop how people see you from the outside, but you can decide how to see yourself from inside.
Huang Hui Cheng thinks her daughter has changed the relationship between she and her mother.
10. Though you did not have a formal education, and probably did not have enough resources to go to school or climb the social ladder, you still challenged yourself to learn how to shoot a documentary film every day after work . Can you give some advice to children who are unable to go to school? Or any tips on how to keep a balance between working and learning?
It is better to give some advice to the adults around these children .
When I was young, I learned everything from what I could get. My mother’s friends had kids my age, so I would read their textbooks or newspapers. When I was a bit older, I had an allowance and I could get some comic books. I was born in a lucky generation. Television channels developed really fast and I would learn from everything screened on TV. Therefore, I think it is better not to restrict a child’s growth. Let him see different things. This is quite good.
When I went to the Berlin International Film Festival, I saw many things that surprised me. There was an advertisement of an online platform on the street. The advertisement contained a bleeding finger cut into pieces. I was wondering: “is it okay commercial to put this commercial here? Does nobody care how the blood and violence can affect children?” Plus, there were many kids walking under the billboard.
Besides, the film ratings of the film festival are pretty open-minded. A film that includes nudity does not necessarily to be classified as an X-rated film. I think how German people teach children to “see bodies” is quite interesting. Sometimes you restrict them too much, and it may cause problems in the future.
11. For LGBT people from the lower classes, who may not be able to leave their hometown or may not have the resources to go to school or climb up the ladder, do you have any advice for them?
Adults need to keep learning so that they can help children. Knowledge is important. You need to find the correct information and find meaning for your own existence, and it is the adults’ duty to build such a space for children to find out.
The opposers to the same-sex marriage bill claimed that LGBT people cannot have children because their children will be discriminated. Instead, I think what should be fixed is the discrimination part. I have done some screenings of the film in the countryside. Some people said that gay people should get married because they cannot have babies, and eventually mankind would go extinct (laughing). However, if you use the words they can understand to explain them that nowadays many young people do not want to marry and have children and you cannot blame on same-sex marriage because of the birth rate is low, they would end up agreeing with you.
"I think you should find the correct communication method. Sometimes you want to convince people to see your point. But before you speak, listen to their hesitation, and try to assess it."
My gay friend asked me how to come out to his family and have them accept his identity. I suggested him that he could stand in their shoes first, to understand why they may not accept it. Usually, they are worried about you, so tell them not to worry, and find the paradox within their ideas. I think language is a tool filled with misunderstandings, everyone has a different analysis of words. We really should learn how to listen to others and make our own statements clear. These are basic things but they are not taught in schools.
Grandmother and granddaughter.
The film editor said the last 30 seconds tell the whole story where you can see people’s need for relationships. My 3-year-old child has already been through this. When you are born, you keep looking around and wondering whether love exists or not.
Communication is not an easy thing, it keeps going back and forth. When my mother listened to her granddaughter asking her “do you love me or not?”, her first answer was “I don’t love you, because you are too naughty”, but she did not mean it. You just need to keep communicating. One day, at the right moment, you will succeed.
Small Talk trailer:
Huang Hui Chen has also arranged a selection of her favorite films for GagaOOLala!