DER Documentary

Returning Souls

Returning Souls launch preview watch a preview

by Hu Tai-Li
color, 85 min, 2012
in Amis and Chinese
with English subtitles



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The carved pillars of the matrilineal Amis tribe's famed ancestral house recount tribal legends such as The Great Flood and The Glowing Girl, and are home to the ancestral spirits of the Amis. The pillars, however, were removed from the village for exhibition in Taiwan's Institute of Ethnology Museum after a typhoon toppled the house 40 years ago.

This film follows a group of young Amis who seek to restore their people's connection with their ancestors. Working with female shamans, the Amis are successful in reconstructing the ancestral house. Their efforts for cultural revitalization, however, are complicated by the influence of western religions, national land policy and local politics. This documentary interweaves reality and legends in its presentation of a unique case of repatriation.

“Anthropologist and filmmaker Hu Tai-Li's Returning Souls is an intricate portrait of indigenous Taiwanese cultural revival and postcolonial negotiation of identity, religion, and the politics involved in the "return" of cultural heritage to its place of origin.” — Kate Hennessey, American Anthropologist
“The film provides a moving record of the frustrations and triumphs experienced by the Tafalong villagers and sheds new light on a range of intellectual issues: the changing role of the museum, the complexities of cultural property claims, the tensions inherent in cultural revitalization projects-all of which have import well beyond this particular context.” — Rough E. Toulson, Visual Anthropology

awardsFilm Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Gold Remi Award, Ethnic/Cultural category, WordFest-Houston, 2013
Special Mention, Intangible Cultural Heritage Award, Jean Rouch Int'l Ethnographic Film Festival, Paris, 2012
Gottingen International Ethnographic Film Festival, Germany, 2014
Association of Asian Studies Film Expo, USA, 2014
Moscow International Festival of Visual Anthropology, 2012
Society for Visual Anthropology Ethnographic Film Festival, San Francisco, 2012
Sole Luna International Documentary Festival, Italy, 2012
Women Make Waves Film Festival, Taipei, 2012

Related Resources
Film's Website (Chinese / English)
Essay: Why I Was Inspired to Film Returning Souls by Hu Tai-Li
Review: American Anthropologist, Vol. 115 #1, by Kate Hennessy
Review: Visual Anthropology, 25: 450-451, 2012, by Ruth E. Toulson

View more photos on www.flickr.com

Related Films
Box of Treasures
Full Circle
Voices of Orchid Island
After Passing
Stone Dream
Sounds of Love and Sorrow
Passing Through My Mother-in-law's Village
Songs of Pasta'ay
The Return of Gods and Ancestors



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