HOMEBOUND - A unique hybrid documentary using animation to capture the life of migrant workers in Taiwan
Written by Helen S.
Imagine arriving in a country, with minimal knowledge of its culture and language, then straightaway you’ve been placed into laborious work with minimal breaks. How does one do that? You may ask.
Tari Sasha, the protagonist who narrates her story in the short-film documentary HOMEBOUND is one of those workers.
There are approximately 700,000 Southeast Asian migrant workers in Taiwan. Many migrant workers experience personal struggles of being far away from home and the pressure of working in labour-intensive industries to provide for their families.
HOMEBOUND (2022) is the short documentary by director Ismail Fahmi Lubis, an extension of his first feature documentary HELP IS ON THE WAY (2020) which focuses on the lives of female migrant workers. HOMEBOUND follows the narration of the Indonesian migrant worker Tari’s working life in Taiwan when the COVID pandemic strikes across the globe. Like many migrant workers from Indonesia, Tari was burdened with the pressure to provide for her family in Indonesia and personal struggles of family connection, extensive demands of her job, and layers of racial nuances in Taiwan.
Many Southeast Asian migrant workers are attracted to well-paid jobs in Taiwan such as housekeeping, aged-care, and factory work. Most of these jobs are physically demanding and have long hours. Without a transparent policy to protect the migrant workers and little knowledge about their rights, many became beleaguered by owing money to job agencies and trying to save money to send home.
Director Ismail Fahmi Lubis and producer Nick Calpakdjian expressed that the idea of creating HOMEBOUND as an animation came unintentionally due to the challenges of the pandemic. The animation format and the oral adaption worked remarkably for the production team and had their own benefit in engaging the audience to convey the sentiment and feelings of migrant workers. It is also a refreshing tactic to have the documentary character as the writer for the production to create an intimate and visceral effect throughout the documentary.
“Our initial intention was to create a live-action documentary, and it all sparked from the idea that when we finished
HELP IS ON THE WAY, we discovered that Tyree really wanted to return home. Director Ismail and I were discussing that there's been a lot of films made about migrant workers abroad, but we haven't ever really examined what happens when they come home. Said producer Nick Calpakdjian.
Deciding the style of animation was one of the main concerns for Fahmi Lubis. Without prior experience in working with animation, difficulties in making the connection between Fahmi Lubis’ imagination and the creation of the animation was a learning trajectory for the team. Capturing Tari’s emotions and personal journey and recreating Tari’s hometown through animation were the essential foundations for this film. For Fahmi Luis, the most important element was the storytelling by Tari, and the rest was a bonus. The rapt creation by the animation team amplifies the enormous personal struggles of Tari’s grief contrasts with the often-considered taciturn reactions of migrant workers.
Sofia Setyorini as the Impact Producer for knows too well the brusque treatment of the migrant workers in Taiwan. The concept of impact producer is relatively new for the industry, and it is fast becoming an essential role for documentary productions to ensure impacts on social changes. Setyorini commented the sufferance and inspiring stories of migrant workers during their time in Taiwan and after returning to Indonesia. Many female migrant workers face the dilemma of being deported when reporting abuse or continue to endure the vulgar treatment since they are the main and perhaps the only source of income for their families.
“There are many ways to fund or produce a film. But what's becoming a lot more viable and mostly for people making issue-based films or social issues films, is that the money doesn't actually come for you to do the production. The money comes from foundations or organizations that want to have social impacts from the film.” Said Nick Calpakdjian.
Such as “Zero Cost Policy” and “Safe Migration” were highlighted during the production of the film. The policies which are yet to be implemented will assist the prospective migrant workers in accessing government-appointed bank supports rather than taking loans from agencies or families which could result in the cycle of debt.
As expressed by Setyorini, the most urgent issue that requires attention is the education of the migrant workers to understand their rights when working in Taiwan and ensure transparency in the administrative process. Much of the predicament results from the lack of education and issues of impunity when it comes to illegal brokers or even human trafficking. Inspirational stories of returning migrant workers in improving the local community and establishing businesses were a few which kept Setyorini continuing her work. Setyorini as the impact producer plays an important role in supporting the social awareness of the migrant workers' situation and ensuring the visibility of the issues are conveyed throughout many rural communities.
“The most important thing is how this perspective for migrant workers gets the education, how to access their rights because all of the classic problems like wage cut, rape, sexual harassment or the employers don't fulfil their rights. It's because the migrant workers, don't have this knowledge what’s their rights are. So they don't know what to do if their employer takes their cell phone or that or 20 hours per day is overwork” said Impact Producer Sofia Setyorini.
HOMEBOUND serves as a powerful work that represents many struggles of the migrant workers and is an educational documentary of the insight of migrant workers in Taiwan. Even with the darkness that one may see at the beginning of the film, the optimistic outlook for yearning for a better life for these migrant workers in the hope of this film.
《HOMEBOUND》是由Ismail Fahmi Lubis在2022年執導的紀錄短片，衍生自他在2020年聚焦於女性移工生活的首部紀錄長片《HELP IS ON THE WAY》。《HOMEBOUND》藉由印尼移工Tari的敘事描繪她在新冠病毒襲捲全球期間的在台生活，就像許多來自印尼的移工，Tari背負著養家的重擔、面臨家庭關係疏離的難題、工作上大量的要求，以及在台灣由種族差異引起的差別待遇問題。
導演Ismail Fahmi Lubis和製片Nick Calpakdjian表示，《HOMEBOUND》以動畫形式進行創作並非他們的原意，而是因應於疫情的挑戰所做的改變。對於製作團隊來說，動畫形式和口述改編的效果相當卓越，並且能夠帶領觀眾感受到移工的情緒和感觸。紀錄片主角作為影片製作的編劇也是一種引人注目的手法，能夠創造出貫穿於全片的親密和真實的情感效果。
製片Nick Calpakdjian說：「我們一開始的打算是要做實景真人的紀錄片，在完成《HELP IS ON THE WAY》的製作後我們發現Tyree真的很想回國，這個想法激發了我們的創作理念，導演Ismail和我討論到目前有許多關於海外移工的電影，但我們還沒有真的去檢視他們回到家鄉後的處境。」
決定動畫的風格是Fahmi Lubis主要關注的問題之一。由於缺乏製作動畫的經驗，製作團隊必須學習如何克服困難，透過動畫如實呈現Fahmi Lubis的想像力。這部片的核心基礎在於捕捉Tari的情緒和她的旅程，以及透過動畫重新創造她的家鄉。對於Fahmi Lubis來說，最重要的元素在於由Tari來述說故事，其餘的元素則是附加價值。動畫團隊全心投入的創作強化了Tari的悲傷中所呈現的許多個人掙扎，與一般人認為移工通常不會有太大反應的印象形成對比。