Voices in the Clouds: a search for identity and belonging

Voices in the Clouds poster

Voices in the Clouds (眾族同聲) had its Taiwan premiere at the closing of the Urban Nomad Film Festival in Taipei on Sunday night. The documentary is a moving and personal story of a man’s search for identity and belonging.

Tony Coolidge was born in Taiwan, but moved to the United States of America with his mother and step-father at a young age. While growing up in the USA his mother kept details of her life in Taiwan hidden. She encouraged her children to speak English so they could fit in. A year after his mother passed away from cancer Tony returned to Taiwan to meet his mother’s family. Only then did he discover that his family were indigenous people belonging to the Atayal group.

After making this discovery Tony returned to Taiwan again several years later along with his younger brother and Taiwanese wife to further explore his roots and connections with Taiwan’s indigenous people. His journey of self-discovery takes him into indigenous communities around Taiwan.

In particular Tony meets with several elderly Atayal and Truku women who have facial tattoos. These women represent a living connection with an ancient tradition. We get a sense of how these women have lived through a period of extraordinary change, first coming under the influence of the Japanese and then Chinese Nationalist governments. Pilin Yabu’s documentary The Stories of Rainbow (彩虹的故事), which I saw two years ago, reveals more details about the lives of these women.

As well as being a personal story, the film is also an appeal for recognition of the value of indigenous wisdom. It shows some of the difficulties indigenous peoples face to maintain their culture in the midst of pressures to assimilate into the mainstream society. Tony has established an NGO called ATAYAL which aims to promote indigenous culture and build connections between indigenous people in Taiwan and the USA.

The documentary explores themes of cultural identity, belonging and finding family and community. I think it can connect with audiences in Taiwan as it is essentially about a search for identity. This is not just relevant to Taiwanese who have grown up abroad and return to Taiwan, or those who discover they have indigenous heritage. It is something relevant to all Taiwanese as they seek to find their own place within the rich, complex ethnic structure of Taiwan.


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