Place of Birth: Kaohsiung
Did You Know...?
The movie poster for "Hard Good Life II" was actually the result of Hsu carrying too many things and asking her father to help with the camera. She had never imagined that he would end up taking a photo of the two's long shadows stretching across the ground in the sunlight, an accidental metaphor for their father-daughter relationship.
Freelance videomaker Hsu Hui-ju (許慧如) graduated from the Tainan National University of the Arts' Graduate Institute of Studies in Documentary & Film Archiving. Her works are often described as "a calm insight into the absurdity of the world we live in, reflecting a kind of warmth within a tone of extreme cold."
She often focuses on life stories and uses the people, things, and events around her as her subject matter. In 2009, her film "Hard Good Life II," a documentary recording her journey with her father as he fought cancer, was screened at the Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival. While filming and dealing with unexpected accidents along the way, Hsu herself was also diagnosed with cancer. Her place hiding behind the camera began to change, handing it over to her husband and letting him film her own healing process. This "accident" changed the focus of the film, making it more complex, changing it from simply recording the aging of her father into a film into which she was dragged. This change was quite thought-provoking, and the film won the Audience Award at the Women Make Waves Film Festival and the Special Jury Mention, Taiwan Competition, at the Taiwan International Documentary Festival.
Since 2002, she has filmed ten documentaries, including three she made during her graduate studies—"Butter Fly," "Hard Good Life I," and "Inside." "Hard Good Life I" focuses on her relationship with her father, capturing his life alone and her life in the dormitory and how, despite being separated, they remained connected as if by roots. This film was awarded the "New Asian Currents" Award of Excellence at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival in Japan.
When Typhoon Morakot struck Taiwan in 2008, Hsu, like many other documentarians, headed straight for the disaster area. In 2011, her film presenting the stories of 12 villagers, "Twelve Stories about the Flood," was nominated for Best Documentary at the Golden Harvest Awards for Outstanding Short Films.
"Out of Place," filmed in 2012, brought the topic home, revisiting it from the perspective of her husband, possibly a descendant of a lowlands indigenous tribe, as he seeks to find his origins. A film about finding and losing, intercut with fragments of historical records, it attempts to repair the cracks in the history of these indigenous peoples, and in 2013, it was screened at the Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival.
In 2017, Hsu set out to shoot an atypical documentary, hiring three real temporary workers to play temporary workers creating a temporary home in an abandoned factory. Through the abandoned factory, the temporary workers, and "help wanted" graffiti, Hsu reflected the reality of the working class. "Temporary" was nominated for Best Short Film at the 2018 Golden Horse Awards and was screened as part of the 2017 Kaohsiung Film Festival and 2018 Women Make Waves Film Festival.
Aside from her college life and a short internship, Hsu has dedicated her life to her hometown of Kaohsiung. As a documentarian, she is committed to using film to tell the story of Kaohsiung as she sees it. As a mother, she continues to shoot the next stages of her life story for her own family.
Photo courtesy of Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute