Documentary captures pivotal moments in Chinese cinema, such as when Ivy Ling Po visited Taipei to promote The Love Eterne

Documentary on the 50 years of the awards features big names such as Wong Kar Wai as well as local film-maker Anthony Chen

Home-grown film-maker Anthony Chen's Ilo Ilo caused a stir when it beat strong competition to win four prizes, including Best Film, at the prestigious Golden Horse Awards in Taipei in 2013.

That historic moment for Singapore cinema is captured in Taiwanese film-maker Yang Li-chou's documentary The Moment: Fifty Years Of Golden Horse, which will be screened on Friday and Sunday as part of the Singapore Chinese Film Festival.

There was a lesson to be gleaned from Chen's triumph over works from established names such as Wong Kar Wai, Johnnie To and Tsai Ming-liang, says Yang, 46, over the telephone from Taipei: "That it went to a small Singapore movie at the pivotal moment of the 50th anniversary of the awards is an important reminder.

"As we chase after higher figures at the box office, are we losing something in the process?"

Personally, he liked Ilo Ilo very much. "It has a similar vibe to Lee Ang's early works and it brings out the depth of the culture or history of a country at a particular time. You rarely see this type of movie made in Taiwan in recent years."

For Yang's documentary, a team of six to seven worked for a year just to do research for half a century of the prestigious film awards, which is to the Chinese film world what the Oscars are to Hollywood.

What made the massive undertaking even more challenging was the fact that he had to discard 90 per cent of the material in order to keep the documentary to a running time of 100 minutes.

He says: "The point of view of the people hence determined much of the look of the documentary."

The Moment is not just about film history, but also seeks to place movies in the context of societal development and changes.

For example, the popularity of romances in the 1970s was the result of women moving into the workforce and seeking entertainment as a form of escape during the weekends.

Yang sought out the female workers from those days and was moved in particular by one interviewee.

He says: "She was illiterate, but she could still recall the storylines and hum the theme songs. Cinema had such a big impact on them."

The film-maker featured himself in the new documentary. It features six seconds of his winnng work, My Football Summer (2006), which he made with Chang Jung-chi and won Best Documentary at the Golden Horse Awards.

The documentary was about a group of young football players in Hualien chasing after a championship.

"It was part of this rising wave of Taiwanese documentaries after 2000. In recent years, they have been screened in theatres and many have done well at the box office," he says, noting that non-fiction works provide an alternative to audiences who might wonder: "Apart from watching foreign actors flying about, fighting or warring, I could also watch these stories unfolding around me."

Yang, who is married with a six-year-old daughter, has been making documentaries for 20 years. He studied at Tainan National University of the Arts' Graduate Institute of Studies in Documentary & Film Archiving.

He says of his chosen art form: "What's very interesting about documentaries is the truth that resides within them.

"There are no actors, just people living their lives and saying what they want to say. I am deeply captivated by this realism."

The idealist also believes in the power of the genre. "A Hollywood comedy or Transformers film can't change the world. But a documentary can open a window and help us better understand another country or our society and hence prevent misunderstandings and clashes. It can make the world a better place."

Does Yang think there is a chance that a documentary about the Golden Horse Awards will itself be part of the race at this year's event, to be held on Nov 21?

Yang has submitted The Moment as an entry and he relishes the idea of a meta-moment occurring.

"It will be fun if a film chronicling the love-hate relationship we have with the awards can be screened as a nominee at the awards. I hope it can happen."

bchan@sph.com.sg