Taiwanese-American filmmaker S. Leo Chiang is making waves at the Oscars this year with his 19-minute documentary, “Island in Between,” shedding light on the historical struggles of Kinmen, a small island group near the Chinese coast that was a focal point of conflict during the Cold War. Chiang hopes the film will contribute to a better understanding of Taiwan’s complex relationship with China on a global scale.
“Island in Between” explores Kinmen’s tumultuous past, marked by intense battles in the 1950s during the Chinese civil war aftermath. Despite its historical significance, Kinmen is now a popular tourist destination. Chiang believes that with China’s recent saber-rattling over Taiwan, including military exercises in 2022 following a visit by then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei, there is heightened interest in Taiwan’s history and current affairs.
While China claims sovereignty over Taiwan, which operates as a democratic state, Chiang notes the growing global interest in Taiwan, providing an opportune time for the film to engage a broader audience. “I think people are more interested in Taiwan than ever, at least in a long, long time. We’re definitely taking advantage of that interest,” Chiang expressed.
The documentary captures the everyday life on Kinmen, contrasting its normalcy with the remnants of its war-torn past, evident in bunkers and bullet-riddled buildings. Martial law persisted on the islands until 1992, five years later than the rest of Taiwan.
Chiang, whose father served in the military on Kinmen in 1968, aims to use the island as a visual representation of the tensions with China, while also conveying a deeper narrative about Taiwanese identity. “At least for me, I still embrace my Chinese cultural and historical and ethnic connection, but in terms of national identity, I’m very vocal about being Taiwanese,” he shared.
Nominated for Best Documentary Short Film, “Island in Between” is set to compete at the Academy Awards ceremony on March 10. Chiang’s future projects may include a film on Teresa Teng, a Taiwanese singer known for her staunch anti-Communist stance, whose influence reached China through loudspeakers on Kinmen during the Cold War. Chiang emphasizes Teng’s iconic status, expressing a desire to bring her story to a broader audience.