DVD poster of Small Oyster Rock in Kezailiao. Photo: Shih Ho-feng
DVD poster of Small Oyster Rock in Kezailiao. Photo: Shih Ho-feng

In 2012, a group of local residents living in Kezailiao − a small fishing village located in Kaohsiung, Taiwan − decided to organize a rock music festival.

The idea popped up after several rounds of beer, and was embraced by everyone around the table, except for the fact that no one had ever been to any music festivals, or knew any underground bands.

The impossible mission turned out to be a huge success.

In July 2012, Small Oyster Rock attracted more than 5,000 people to participate, breaking organizers’ estimates of 200.

It made a successful return in February 2014. The festival rolled out for two days, with more than 10,000 people flooding into the village and the number of performers expanding from nine to 21 groups.

From the very beginning to the bitter end, 37-year-old Taiwanese director Shih Ho-feng brings the festival’s second edition to the silver screen in his documentary Small Oyster Rock in Kezailiao.

Shih said he was curious when he first heard about Small Oyster Rock.

The festival ran solely from fundraising, without any financial support from either the government or private corporations. Everything from inviting bands to promotions and even setting up the venue was done by local residents and volunteers. They even donated all the earnings from souvenir sales to social welfare organizations.

“Without a very strong drive and emotional connection to the village, it’s impossible to achieve what they’ve achieved,” Shih said. “I wanted to know what has driven these people.”

Shih contacted Kirin Tzeng, one of Small Oyster Rock’s organizers in 2012 for permission to shoot its second edition, and started documenting the music festival and Kezailiao’s local residents in October 2013, after he was granted a NT$400,000 (US$13,300) fund by Taiwan’s National Culture and Arts Foundation.

Board meeting: Kirin Tzeng (in a pink T-shirt) chats to members. Photo: Shih Ho-feng

Small Oyster Rock serves as a backbone theme and the most important event in the documentary, but the real story that Shih found interesting, after almost a year of filming, lies in the village itself.

Like small agricultural and fishing villages in Taiwan, Kezailiao faces a similar fate – overdevelopment, the departure of young people and an ageing population.

Kezailiao has even suffered from depleted fish stocks and diminishing coastlines for decades. “These all washed away the memories and history of Kezailiao, as well as the experiences of growing up by the sea,” Shih says.

“Small Oyster Rock is Kezailiao’s hope to preserve those memories, revive its tourism and attract younger generations back to the village.”

Volunteers clean up the beach before Small Oyster Rock in 2014. Photo: Shih Ho-feng

Preserving vanishing memories has always been a central theme in Shih’s previous documentaries.

Before Small Oyster Rock in Kezailiao, Shih documented a hand puppet master, the history of a old cinema theater before it closed, and a Taiwanese opera group.

“When you grew older, you started to find things disappearing around you,” Shih said. “My family is in the traditional industry, we own a small hardware store in Taiwan. I think it’s one of the reasons why I’m especially interested in documenting traditional culture and industries.”

After filming the story of Kezailiao, Shih decided to move back to his hometown Yunlin, and work on a project about the area’s air pollution problems. Mailiao Township in Yunlin was chosen as the construction site of Formosa Petrochemical Corporation’s sixth naphtha cracking plant in 1991, and has been struggling with air and industrial pollution ever since.

“I’m moved by the people living in Kezailiao,” Shih said. “After documenting so many stories elsewhere, I feel like I need to do something for my hometown, and I think it is now time for me to tell its story.”

After the documentary’s premiere in the Chingyi International Art Documentary Film Festival in 2015, and touring around the island in 2016, a new edited DVD version of Small Oyster Rock in Kezailiao is now ready for purchase.