The Art of Building a One-Inch Tall Barrier (and other takeaways): A Summer at the Women Make Waves International Film Festival

傅珮琳, Translation Track

  At the 2020 Golden Globes, the renowned South Korean director Bong Joon-ho won the Best Foreign Language Film award with a social satire piece Parasite; in his acceptance speech, he famously remarked (through his phenomenal interpreter Sharon Choi): “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

  This one sentence elegantly and precisely captures the value and significance of subtitles in the era of global cinema. As an avid movie-watcher and lover of films from all corners of the world, subtitles have been essential to my cinema experience over the years. Imagine my excitement at having the opportunity to be on the other side of the (rhetorical) screen!

  Over the summer, I was given a chance to intern at the Women Make Waves International Film Festival (WMWIFF), which was a film festival focused on shining a spotlight on women directors and creators, as well as gender and LGBTQIA+ issues. There was an interesting conundrum to consider from the get-go: the internship was — technically — an unpaid one (we were able to get tickets to attend the film festival, so it was more of a barter trade economy), which seemed ironic at first glance, as our teachers often emphasized the need for us to know the value of our skills as translators and interpreters, and to not let future employers or clients undervalue our work. However, upon completing the internship, I believe I had made the right decision to commit to it as what I gained was more meaningful than monetary compensation. The work that we had done was meaningful and contributed to social causes that I staunchly believe in. By translating subtitles for educational videos (part of the film festival’s fringe outreach efforts), we helped to ensure that more people from all walks of life, of different language competencies, and of different cultural backgrounds, could enjoy films and works from a diverse slate of creators and artistes. In the long run, not only will this help expand the worldview and horizon of viewers, but it will allow the main social causes that WMWIFF champions to gain more traction and support from a wider audience.

  On the more practical end of things, volunteering for relatively smaller film festivals and events like WMWIFF is also extremely valuable in terms of allowing amateur and aspiring audiovisual translators to build our portfolios and hone our skills. Most commercial studios, translation agencies, and major film festivals like the Golden Horse Awards Film Festivals typically place a lot of importance on the experience and portfolio that a potential translator could bring to the table. It can be difficult for translators with little to no experience to break into the, frankly, quite oversaturated audiovisual translation market, and volunteering for festivals like WMWIFF provides great opportunities to be exposed to a wide variety of genres, as well as films from all over the world, in a variety of languages. In turn, this prepares us to deal with challenging circumstances, such as having to place your full trust in the English translation of, say, a French film, and learning to navigate the intricacies and nuances of such a situation, which is vastly different from doing a direct and more straightforward English to Chinese translation.

  Aside from translating subtitles, my fellow interns and I were also responsible for translating the festival-related collaterals, such as a publication outlining the history of the women’s rights movement in Taiwan and in the international sphere, alongside the development of local and regional cinema, with a focus on women creators and artistes.

  We were mainly responsible for translating Chinese language materials into English, presenting us with unique challenges. Being a socially conscious organization, the organizing team at WMWIFF was clear about their expectations regarding our treatment of sensitive terms related to women and minority groups, as well as the issues that affect them and the causes that are relevant to their rights and needs. This prompted us to conduct more extensive and in-depth research about the proper terms and names we should be using in our translation and drove home the idea that research is paramount to our work as translators.

  Not only should research be extensive and in-depth, but it should also be current and up-to-date, especially when using certain lingo for certain special communities, as languages evolve with time and with social norms and conventions. For example, in the past, it might have been acceptable to address Indigenous Peoples by the term “aborigines”, but the term “Indigenous Peoples” is deemed respectful in the present-day context. In this case, translation is not just a mere exchange or transfer of ideas from one language to another; as translators, it is also our responsibility to pay attention to the evolving and prevailing culture, context, and norms of the society from which the target language originated.