LalaTai arranged a small talk with the director of Small Talk (2017) (pun intended), Huang Hui Chen. This new documentary has recently been awarded Best Documentary Film at this year’s Teddy Awards. In addition, The Priestess Walks Alone (2016), which is a shorter cut of the same mother-daughter story, also received the Jury Award at the South Taiwan Film Festival and won the Outstanding Short Film Award at the Golden Harvest Film Festival.
Small Talk trailer:
“This work is not only about LGBT issues, but more about family and mother-daughter relationships. I am glad that this kind of story happened in my family so I had the chance to write it down.” -- Huang Hui Chen
Small Talk official poster / Source: Small Talk
1. Do The Priestess Walks Alone and Small Talk have different meanings to you?
The Priestess Walks Alone is like a video letter for my mother. However, Small Talk is about my own statement and inner thoughts, giving the audience more space to think about it.
The original target audiences of these two films is different. The Priestess Walks Alone is for TV viewers, and Small Talk is for those who will go to the theater. TV viewers are much harder to please, if the content does not attract them, then, you may lose the chance to communicate with them. So, on several aspects, such as visual narration and pacing, we took into account TV viewers’ habits.
2. You have used some other devices, like writing a letter and conversing, to communicate with your mother. In the end, you chose to record. Why do you this is the best what? Do you have any recommendation for people trying to communicate with LGBT family members?
I used to think writing some words would work, but I failed because my mother did not respond. Without the camera I do not dare to talk to her, so using the camera provided me with a chance to get closer to her.
I think everyone’s situation is different. You family is not necessarily like my mother so I am afraid of giving any advice. Before using this method, I carried out an evaluation. I was lucky that I had twenty years to complete this film, I was filled with questions 20 years ago. Fortunately, after I experienced the ups and downs of life, I can see things in different perspectives. This allowed me to successfully complete this film.
My mother and I are getting older. Besides aging, a new life was also brought to our family. A child can make hard things so much easier. So, I felt I was at perfect moment to get close to my mother.
Finding the right moment to deal with emotions is a different process for each person. For me, I spent twenty years. But the most important thing is to take care of oneself. If you cannot settle down, the possibility of successfully communicating with others is pretty small. I had settled down, at least I acknowledged my mental state. Then, I started to contact my mother. If you still do not know yourself, you will not be able to listen to others or convey your ideas properly.
Huang Hui Chen chose to use a camera as a way to get close to her mother.
3. When you realized your mother was a lesbian, what went on in your mind? Have you ever thought you might also be a lesbian?
Since I can remember things, I always knew my mother liked women. Although the word “lesbian” did not exist when I was still a child, I knew my mother had a very close girlfriend. However, it did not bother me. My biggest problem could be that my mother spent most of her time at her girlfriend’s instead of with us (laughing).
While growing up, I got in touch with all kinds of people, and I have heard different voices and social values. Then, I realized that “a mother who is into girls” is a wrong thing. I started to think about it when I was 11 years old. During my adolescence, which was during the 90s, Taiwanese people were still unfamiliar with the LGBT community. The media described the LGBT community in a negative way, and used words like “murder” or “orgy party”. You could only find LGBT related books under the medical section of a bookstore, which lead you to think homosexuality was a mental disease. So, I felt like I was wasting time on finding the answer I already knew. Before I heard the different opinions from the outside, I thought my mother was quite well. Although she was often not at home or spent too much time with her girlfriend, I did not think it was wrong.
Huang Hui Chen’s mother is a priestess.
In our current society, plenty of people use labels, such as for occupation, education or family background, to define and evaluate a person and his existence. But for children, at least in my case, I didn’t judge my mom’s appearance or family background. She may have multiple identities, but the most important thing is that what she means to me.
As for the other question, whether I would fall in love with a girl or not, I think it is good to have a lesbian mother. you can see things from a different point of view. I asked my mother once: “if I am also into girls, what will you do?” My mother kept silent, but her girlfriend said: “She is already a lesbian, what can she do to you?” I felt my world became bigger and wider. Once during a film symposium, the host asked me: “Has any girl ever confessed her love to you?” I said to myself: “How come there is no one!” (laughing).
4. The word “lesbian” and its meaning was introduced in Taiwan from the Western countries. When you are having a conversation with your family, this word rarely pops up. You only say things like she has a girlfriend, or she likes girls. Do you think the words “lesbian” and “tomboy” are proper to describe your mother? Why?
My mother’s generation describes women who are into women as “the ones with pants.” They would not call themselves homosexuals or lesbians. Women who had more masculine features were called “the ones with pants”, and the ones with more of a feminine look “the ones with skirt.”
But I hope people not to put labels on others, because it is hard for you to really know a person by only paying attention to their labels. I describe my mother as “a mother or grandma who has masculine gender features.” She also not identifies with a tomboy because this word is unfamiliar to her. She knows the way she looks, she likes pretty women. That is enough.
My mother is always being gentle, patient and considerate to other women. When I was young, she usually took my sister and I to the place where people drank tea. Then, she kept cracking nuts with her teeth but she did not eat them. She put the shelled nuts in front of her girlfriend, so her girlfriend could just relax and eat those nuts gracefully. Even though my sister and I were right next to her, if we wanted to eat the nuts we had to open them by ourselves. We were bad at shelling nuts, the shells were crushed, but the nuts were also crushed. It gave us a feeling that our mother would do everything for her girlfriend but not for us. Even when she was still chasing after her girlfriend, she was already very considerate towards her.
5. Your mother said: “When I was young, there were already plenty of women who were interested in same-sex relationship. They gathered in the Taipei Bridge area.” As far as you know, do you think there are any differences between lesbians back then and now?
I think it is pretty hard to find a word to describe lesbians at that time. But I think it is even better because they did not have to look for a sense of identity. The new generations are luckier, they have more information. When my mother was young, lesbians might not even realize they actually liked women, but for the young generations, it is still hard for them to search for their identities. Especially, since there are many more categories now (laughing).
I think each generation has its own problems. No matter when, you will always encounter problems eventually. Though the new generations have more information and they are more open-minded, there are still some obstacles waiting for them. I think the idea of family is a question that both generations still have to deal with.
To read the second part of the interview click here.
Huang Hui Chen has also arranged a selection of her favorite films for GagaOOLala!