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Travel Report: Novia Shih-Shan Chen, GSWS

November 19, 2015
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Novia Shih-Shan Chen, a Doctoral student in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies, received a Graduate International Research Travel Award (GIRTA) to further her research in Hong Kong, Beijing, China, and Taipei, Taiwan. Her report:

Thanks to the generous Graduate International Research Travel Award, I embarked on my research trip to Hong Kong, Beijing, China and Taipei, Taiwan for my doctoral dissertation project in Summer 2014.

The timing was important as I just completed and defended my three sets of comprehensive examinations in Fall 2013 and was in need of a closer examination of the materials that were not normally available in North America. I visited the two most important establishments: Hong Kong Film Archive and the Taiwan Film Institute. Moreover, I collected not only my foundational secondary sources but also materials that provide local contexts and perspectives in these regions before proceeding to my dissertation proposal defense.

This trip was significant as it provided me the extremely valuable opportunity to reexamine and rework my dissertation topics, and through the investigation of the materials I was able to reposition my dissertation topic that better bridges and expands the knowledge of gender, cultural policy and documentary filmmaking in Sinophone cinema. I successfully defended my thesis proposal in Fall 2014 and presented one of my chapters at the international documentary conference Visible Evidence held in Toronto in Summer 2015.

Following closely to my original plan prior to the trip, I spent most of my time in the two major film archives exploring the massive materials, journals, periodicals related to my topic in order to map out the historical aspect of my research subjects: female documentary/independent filmmakers. As my proposal indicated, the field is still understudied and under-published in the English scholarship. I was able to obtain publications in Chinese-language that provided comprehensive introduction to early female filmmakers as well as analyses of different angles and methodology on similar topics.

In Hong Kong, I hit upon a few local independent bookstores and video stores that kept a very interesting collection of film studies books published in Chinese such as In Pursuit of Independent Visions in Hong Kong Cinema by the renowned scholar Esther M.K. Cheung. With her focus on mapping out the independent film scene in Hong Kong, I was able to identify several important female directors whose works cross between documentary and narrative film form. This assured me that my cultural policy aspect would make great complimentary contributions to the understanding and probing of the gendered, capitalist, and narrative-dominant ideology within Sinophone cinema.

Similarly in Taiwan, in addition to the necessary materials that I was confident in obtaining in the first place, I met a few Taiwan-based journal editors and documentary film festival coordinators that shared with me unprecedented information and resources in identifying useful tools and contact information when future conduction of research is required.

The major obstacle that I encountered during this trip was that I was not aware that the Chinese Film Archive in Beijing was not open to the general public. I was made known that I would only be able to go in if I had known someone affiliated with the Archive. Despite that, I continued to build connections and visited the unique Li Xiang Ting Independent Film Fund located in Song Zhuang, the suburban area of Beijing and collected materials that highlighted important independent documentary filmmakers’ works.

Without the award, I would not have achieved all the above in a timely and productive manner. I am truly grateful for the kind offer.

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