The First Documentary filmmaker to win the National Literature and Art Achievement Award in the Category of Movie.

During the 1990s, while environmental awareness in Taiwan was still in its infancy, Chin-yuan Ke launched a one-man mission to survey the current state of Taiwan’s environment. With just a camera and his pen, Ke ultimately produced reams of notes and countless photographs documenting his findings. Ke joined Public Television Service (PTS) in 1998 as Taiwan’s first investigative filmmaker focused on the environment. Over the past 3 decades, his largely solitary battle against environmental degradation has not only pushed social justice forward but also helped further realize the spirit and values that define PTS’ mission. This year, the Taiwan International Documentary Festival is proud to recognize Chin-yuan Ke with the Festival’s Outstanding Contribution Award. This award both affirms the value of Ke’s contributions throughout his career and reaffirms the true value and mission of the documentary film medium.

He only does one thing: recording ecology mutations in Taiwan. Returning endlessly to over 100 areas he records and focuses on for a long time, he testifies to environmental changes for more than three decades in the country from the perspective of an eyewitness.
From the 1000-year-old giant woods high on the mountains to the spawning coral deep in the sea, from oyster farmers to rice farmers, from the ceaselessly retreating shoreline to the increasingly blurred skyline: he has made 27 documentaries with unrelenting perseverance.
He has long been recording Taiwan’s natural landscapes by treading all over the island. During the period, he continued to learn knowledge of natural ecology on his own, extensively collected information and followed current environmental issues. He thus compiled fieldwork data of approximately a million words, took 200,000 photographs and published a tome of Taiwan’s environment report consisting of more than 300,000 words.
He has won more than 90 awards during his filmmaking career, including: Grand Prize in Documentary section of Taipei Film Festival, Grand Prize in Taiwan Competition of Taiwan International Documentary Festival, Silver World Medal in Nature & Wildlife section of New York Festivals 2011 World's Best TV & Films, Best Directing for Non-Drama Programme of Golden Bell Awards, Honorable Mention for Conservation Awareness of Montana CINE International Film Festival, Excellence Prize of Korean Green Film Festival, among others.

Portrait of a Director: Ke Chin-Yuan – Between the Tick and Tock of the Long and Short Hands

Witnessing and Guarding

I rarely see Ke Chin-Yuan in an air-conditioned office. His desk at PTS is always piled high with files and papers, but there is rarely anyone sitting in his chair. He spends his time in the mountains, forests, and at the scenes of environmental incidents.

To find him, you usually have to call and ask, “ Master Ke, where are you?”

In 2001, when the Amorgos oil spill incident occurred, he was on the beach in Kenting; on February 5, 2018, when it snowed on the saddle of Yang Ming Shan Mountain, Taipei City, he left his footprints; late one night on February 6 of the same year, a huge earthquake struck Hualien – on the morning of February 8, Ke joined the Our Island team and rushed to the scene; on New Year's Day, 2020, millions of Hong Kongers took to the streets to protest – with camera in hand, Ke followed the crowds to report the situation on the ground.

Ke is a filmmaker who contemplates everything big and small between heaven and earth. The art of filmmaking he is so passionate about is essentially a tug-of-war with time. It requires one to be at the scene to witness it; it requires time and patience to capture it. Using the metaphor of a clock's long and short hands, examining Ke's achievements over the last thirty years provides a glimpse into his extraordinariness and uniqueness.

Watches and clocks have long and short hands. The long hand moves quickly, advancing by the minute, not tolerating a moment of laziness; the short hand moves slowly, imperceptibly shifting forward, carving its way through time. Most people are driven by the long hand each day, busily calculating the speed while ignoring the depth. Few people bore down into the aperture of the short hand, waiting and searching to both sketch the outline and penetrate the essence. Without the long hand’s direct witnessing, the short hand lacks material; without the short hand's accumulation of time, the event depicted by the long hand fails to provide a complete picture.

Documentary filmmakers are in a race against time. If you miss an event or scene, it is gone forever - there are no second chances. Some events are impossible to clearly contextualize and draw conclusions about right away – hasty conclusions are at risk of begetting bias. Known as Master Ke, Ke Chin-yuan collects the scenery hastened forward by the long hand while fleshing out the details in the gaps of the slow-moving short hand, adding context and contour to the scenery. This mixture of long and short creates a charming sense of juxtaposition and reference point in his documentaries and ecological books.

Using “attractive” to describe Ke's works does not imply any derogatory sense. On the contrary, the term attempts to highlight Ke’s narrative approach of using images as the warp and the story as the weft.

Most documentary images emerge through a combination of witnessing and guarding. Diligence is the sine qua non of filmmaking - a passion for staying in the mountains or by the ocean. This is followed by sensitivity - sniffing out the core points. Lastly, reconstruction - multiple cameras and multidimensional analysis. Ke’s narratives mostly come from his penetrating sense of logic and awareness. Sometimes, hidden from view, he stands behind the camera, making an on-site record of wherever the viewfinder lands; sometimes, he appears in front of the viewfinder, either speaking directly to the camera or using his own voice as the voiceover to narrate stories in vivid detail. Ke’s clear-cut personal style and distinctive imprint are not about showing off, but about shouldering responsibility - only those at the scene know the truth; only an explanation of cause and effect confirms the solid facts.

The Heartache and Impatience of Witnessing the Scene

The sharpness and speed demanded in his journalistic background, along with the pressure and space constraints of the media, have somewhat contributed to Ke's style of recording, sampling, and sorting. His observation and tracking of ecological issues took root back in his columnist days; however, it was not until he entered PTS that his work became more three-dimensional. By good fortune, there was a group of people at PTS determined not to follow the empty talk of politicians. Thanks to this move away from the mainstream, workers such as Ke gained some creative freedom, which gradually focused the mainstream spotlight on Taiwan’s environmental issues and accelerated environmentalism's convergence into a social consensus.

Ke's cruelest yet most precious reporting experience must be his coverage of the Amorgos oil spill incident captured in the “present continuous tense”.

Ke was not the first reporter to rush to the scene, but being well connected and informed, on hearing the news, he knew exactly what to do. With the help of colleagues at PTS News Department, he succeeded in recording the inevitable pollution on Taiwan’s fragile coastline. Although unable to record every detail of this national environmental disaster, he took on a long-term residency at the site for six months to do follow-up reports. Using the diligence and earnestness of the short hand, he scanned the entire area, regularly providing updated images and progress reports - the bureaucrats could no longer hoodwink the public. On top of using the crudest, most rudimentary oil clean-up measures, they even restricted Ke’s reporting in the name of safety, attempting “damage control .” Despite such ploys, they still failed to block Ke, who knew the channels too well and always cleverly managed to find a way.

In later life, many journalists may reminisce on the absurdity and confrontation behind past reports, but Ke’s works do not tend to such cheap narcissistic sentiments. One can hardly imagine the heartache he experienced while covering the deathly black oil pollution, but the shocking images he captured are imbued with a palpable sense of urgency.

Ke is neither worried nor proud whether his images are a headache for officials. He is well aware that news reports are incapable of turning the tide and can but testify to the stupidity of humanity. Ke's hope is that robust footage has the power to consolidate public opinion and put pressure on government policymaking so that when, inevitably, other such incidents arise in the future, we have contingency plans and do not find ourselves caught in Catch-22 situations - this is the humble prayer of most documentary filmmakers.

Precise Sampling of the Long Hand; Expansiveness of the Short Hand

The precise sampling of the long hand gives Ke's environmental reports the same powerful impact as live reports. The unavoidable and irrefutable aftershock of his work, however, comes from his short hand structure. With its wide increments, the short hand is suitable for waiting, guarding, and sorting. This enables the force of penetrating insights collected from the long hand to pierce the fog of contentious debates with poignant and vivid storytelling.

Ke's documentary Pingxi Sky Lantern provides a perfect example of this. While capturing the sky lantern event in Pingxi at the start of the millennium, only Ke asked reporters to go deep into the forest and to the ocean to look for the remains of fallen lanterns. In contrast, the mainstream media busied themselves capturing the eye-catching spectacle of thousands of lanterns soaring in the sky. Ke's long hand moves with lightning speed, yet he never forgets to open up a wider field of vision through the short hand.

In Biographies of the Macaques, people try their best to drive out the “invading” monkeys through gunfire, firecrackers, and the hitting of drums and gongs. The film chronicles the modern conflict in Taiwan between humans and macaques, which began with humans feeding macaques for fun and turned into macaques stealing food from humans for survival. We witness how human development has driven macaques (which are primates like humans) ever deeper into the mountains and forced them to “plunder” the land of humans to forage for food. The seductive drama-like charm created by Ke's arrangement and presentation produces a more watchable and relatable environmental documentary.

Produced over nine years, The Squid Daddy's Labor Room explores whether artificial reefs made of cement telegraph poles and sunken ships are proper and whether the "bamboo-bundle delivery rooms" are more popular with neritic squid. Ke dives into the ocean's depths to shoot images contrasting the sparse fish populations of conventional artificial reefs to those of the egg-rich natural bamboo reefs. The film not only contains delightful underwater images but also directly challenges Taiwan’s reef policy.

One could say that considering both fun and environmental conservation is Director Ke's inherent rule of filmmaking. Therefore, starting from the behind-the-scene stories of the popular TV entertainment program, Naughty Family, Ke's Paradise Way reconstructs the life of the show's orangutan stars, Xiao Li, Mike, and Handsome, which traveled around Taiwan for nineteen years. Ke even travels to Indonesia to explore the orangutans' hometowns and pieces together a comprehensive picture of Vietnam's illegal trade in protected species. Such vision and ambition demonstrate Ke's depth of understanding and determination to get to the bottom of things. We are reminded that no man is an island and that as citizens of the Earth, we cannot attach to just one part of the world or regard an event from a single viewpoint.

In 2018, he produced The Age Of Awakening, inviting the first generation of environmental reporters and protesters to reinvestigate and reexamine several saddening environmental events, ranging from the early anti-DuPont movement and the protests against the creation of an incinerator in LiZe, to the more recent protests against the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant and Taiwan's serious air pollution issue. Is Taiwan progressing or regressing? It may be impossible to give a definitive answer to Ke's question. Only by asking such big questions, however, can we stimulate reflection. Isn't this what intellectuals can and should be doing?

Reality is far more complicated and challenging than mere conceptual ideas. While following environmental issues, the harassment and restrictions Ke encounters are akin to some real-life conservation thriller.

A prime example is when Ke formerly tracked the illegal removal of sand and the dumping of toxic waste. When he arrived at the scene, several menacing individuals silently followed him and circled him on a motorcycle. Some even pointed to him, saying: "We know who you are!" The aim was to intimidate Ke into retreating.

In addition to being subjected to psychological intimidation, Ke has also suffered raw physical violence. On one occasion, Ke was physically beaten by a tow trucker with a gangster background and had his camera smashed to pieces. He learned that he must never go alone when covering sensitive topics and always bring another person to accompany him.

But accompaniment can only avoid physical violence; a more effective protection comes from professionalism and depth. Ke's attitude to reporting is to eschew personal emotions and instead use images to present the facts. This allows the audience to judge for themselves. As for himself, he carefully abides by the red lines of journalism: to remain impartial and to provide accurate information. Maintaining strict impartiality means gathering a large amount of evidence and facts that support your report. Everything must be based on facts and be able to withstand scrutiny. Both positive and negative opinions should be presented, and the final judgment left to the audience. He emphasized: "The most important thing is that "goodness" is the starting point for any report. This "goodness" isn't about being kind to others, but about developing in a "better" direction. For example, when pollution occurs, finding a solution is far more meaningful than identifying who is to blame."

Choose Topics Carefully and Do Your Homework Thoroughly To Achieve Solid Skills

Ke’s original motivation for devoting his life to covering environmental and ecological issues came from his experiences growing up in a remote farming and fishing village in Changhua. During those years, he witnessed the destruction of Taiwan's environment as it transformed away from its agricultural past. Later, while working as a journalist, he became deeply aware that the mainstream media recognized the effectiveness of capitalist development and deliberately ignored environmental issues. Except for major public incidents, there were few reports from the mainstream media of any size or substance.

When Typhoon Yancy struck Taiwan in 1990, a seawall belonging to Taiyen Biotech Co., Ltd. in Wangliao Village collapsed, immersing the entire village in seawater for thirty-nine days. The extent of the mainstream media’s coverage was a few reports of senior officials visiting the disaster area – nobody seemed concerned about or reported on the plight of the villagers. With such absurd politics and media realities, he naturally veered away from his then path in politics and business reporting to focus on the environment, observing Taiwan from the ground.

The 1988 Farmers' Movement provided yet more impetus. At that time, farmers worried that opening up to the import of agricultural products would affect their livelihoods. Farmers petitioned the government in the central and southern parts of the country. Officials labeled them as mobs, and the mainstream media failed to highlight the protests, merely regurgitating the government's official line. Witnessing the grievances of farmers, he became more determined to speak out for the vulnerable and weak.

Carefully choosing topics and doing sufficient groundwork became important fundamental skills for Ke. At the invitation of Wealth Magazine, he began to write the Taiwan Reports column, determined to conduct a comprehensive survey of Taiwan. Each environmental issue he focused on was, in his opinion, worthy of long-term attention. He periodically returned to the scene to reassess and record the situation, attempting to understand the context of environmental conflicts and change.

Walking the Road Less Traveled

Ke’s diligence is evident from the fact that he spends twenty days a month traveling to the site of environmental issues. In the case of emergencies, he first assists his colleagues in making a special report, biding his time until a thorough investigation has been carried out before producing a 1-2 hour documentary.

He is well aware that the source and context of events that lead to ecological problems are difficult to understand in one, two, three, or even five years, and that some government policies require long-term testing. For example, in the 1970s, the restoration of marine resources advocated an artificial reef policy. It has been proven that if not properly managed, this leads to the destruction of marine ecology. However, it took Taiwan billions of dollars and thirty years of testing to realize that the policy may be wrong.

Thirty years in the natural world is a mere blip on the radar, and the problems we see are often only the tip of the iceberg. Over time, a new set of values will emerge for the concept of environmental conservation according to humanity's changing needs, the evolution of the knowledge system, and what stands the test of time. Therefore, humility is necessary, and reflection is even more indispensable. For example, regarding the issue of environmental development in Taiwan, some people advocated full economic development, while Ke emphasized putting the environment first. However, after many years, he adjusted his thinking: "In order to take into account the survival of local residents, we might as well start from the concept of resource sustainability and then seek the possibility of humanity finding a low-impact way to coexist with the environment and living things."

Hence, scholar Kuo Li-hsin’s praise of Ke: “Ke Chin-Yuan’s humility, self-respect, deep introspection in addition to his broad-mindedness and vision towards environmental politics are not only fully evident in his reporting, but also expressed in every statement he utters…"

“…His approach to analyzing environmental issues and investigating the causes of destruction or deterioration furnishes his images and writings with clear problematics and political views, while the tone of his films remains calm and peaceful.”

In my eyes, Ke Chin-yuan resembles the American poet Robert Frost, who preferred to walk the road less traveled. I have no doubt that Ke will continue probing between the tick and tock of the long and short hands until his last breath, unearthing new and intriguing points of view and proceeding to write new chapters in Taiwan's story.

Lan Tsu-Wei (1st Chairman of the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute)



Ke grew up in a coastal village in Shenkang Township, Changhua County, where a clear little stream laid in front of his home.
Unfortunately, heavy industry has turned the wetland into a hell of pollution with dried, infertile farmland, polluted air, and a industrial sewage drainage that used to be the clear stream.
Purchased the first camera in his life and began to record the natural ecological landscape. Devoted himself to seeking magnificent landscape of mountain and sea for a long time.
Entered the media world as a photojournalist in politics, economy and social movements. In 1990, Typhoon Yancy caused a breakout of the embankment in Wang Liao Village in Dongchi, Chiayi. Ke Chin-yuan visited the site to report the event, witnessing the villagers’ feet soaked by the seawater and got rotten. Yet they were totally ignored by Taipei city officials and mainstream media.
Became an independent filmmaker and used field investigations to fully record the environmental field, especially background materials about the marine and coastal environment. Began to establish two axes of his work: social movements and environmental issues and aimed at making images that could exist independently without texts.
Began to work in the news department of Public Television Service (PTS). In recent years, many of his works focused on destruction of natural environment in Taiwan through changes in industrial policies; how the government shall determine future plans for environmental protection and how enterprises shall implement social responsibility in the era of awaken civic awareness.
Biographies of the Macaques – Taipei Film Awards for Best Documentary.
Song of the Forest – 45th Golden Bell Award for Best Non-Drama Director.
Published the book Our Island: Thirty Years of Environmental Change in Taiwan.
Taiwan International Documentary Festival for Outstanding Contribution Award.
The Age Of Awakening – Taipei Film Festival Audience Choice Award.
Sacred Forest – 55th Golden Bell Award for Best Non-Drama Director.





How Could This Happen?
Focusing on change and breaking through the traditional media narrative, director Ke Chin-Yuan visits environmental locations across Taiwan to share his knowledge. Using images recorded over many years, director Ke employs commentary, metaphors, and humor to present the current state of Taiwan’s environment. His hope is to step beyond the conservation echo chamber and spread awareness about these pressing issues far and wide.