In 1928, the Japanese set out to develop Taiwan's sugar industry in Taichung's Xinshe plateau due to its favorable climate and soil quality, and consequently established the Danan Sugarcane Seeding Nursery. This high altitude region, however, lacked water, and so the government engaged Japanese engineer Isoda Norio to supervise the construction of the Baileng Canal in the upper reaches of the Dajia River. The irrigation system draws water from the Baileng highlands at an altitude of 550 meters, and includes tunnels, aqueducts, and inverted siphons that travel over cliffs and through gorges.
The abundance of water brought in by the canal has transformed the ecology, but also the economy, of the local Xinshe area—enabling the growth of sugar cane, edible fungi, orchids, and fruits such as the honey pear and loquat.
The documentary film Contact Prints of Baileng Canal produced by the Taichung City Government Information Bureau and film director Huang Hsin-Yao brings viewers on a journey over the route of the Baileng Canal. The documentary takes its name from the photographic convention of producing a ‘contact print’, which contains every image taken in a photoshoot. Huang’s film captures every impression of the canal waters, the stagnant as well as the picturesque.
The journey begins at the source of the Dajia River, the very root of the canal waters, and travels nearly 17 km to Xinshe where the waters divide into households and fields, and become fruits and crops, which are then transported north to satisfy the demand of Taiwan and further afield.
‘Since everything flows in an invisible torrent, I tried to use only images and natural sounds to express this everything’. said Huang. He deliberately avoided narration and music to allow the water to act as the autonomous central character and to speak for itself. Considering the voyage through Baileng Canal as just a brief period in the life lived by its waters, Contact Prints of Baileng Canal, reminds of the interactions that take place between water, landscape and people on a daily basis, worldwide.
Huang Hsin-Yao, born 1973 in Taiwan, where he currently lives and works.