Malan Breton’s Journey to Taiwan

On July 14th, designer Malan Breton presented the Malan Breton Homme men’s collection during New York Fashion Week: Men’s. The evening  also featured two screenings of Breton’s award winning documentary film, A Journey to Taiwan. When the film debuted on the opening day of the New York City International Film Festival in the spring, it received rave reviews and went on to win the award for Best Short Documentary Film.

A film still from A Journey to Taiwan

A Journey to Taiwan chronicles Breton’s most recent trip back to his homeland of Taiwan, exploring the ways in which he draws upon his connection to his native country for inspiration for his designs, with a particular focus on his Spring/Summer 2015 collection, which shared the same name as the film. Collaborating on this film was both a labor of love and a uniquely challenging experience for Breton and his longtime publicist, Bonnie Bien, who served as Director and producer respectively…

A film still for A Journey to Taiwan

Malan has often spoken about his passion and reverence for his homeland of Taiwan. Since you are not primarily filmmakers by trade, did you have any apprehension about attempting to successfully convey that passion on film in a documentary?

Bonnie Bien: This is such a great question. I was a film major, and I attended Hunter college film school, the words just popped out of my mouth to do a film. I guess somewhere deep inside me I wanted to use some of the skills that I developed in college. It was a whole lot more than I bargained for. In some ways it was unchartered territory and in others not. As a PR and fashion show producer I hire video, so it did not seem completely foreign. That being said, there were many things as a producer that needed to be worked out. I can only say it has wet my appetite to make another documentary. Finding the right editor was challenging. When I was in film school my favorite filmmaker was Bernardo Bertolucci and I remembered him saying that Vittoro Storaro, his editor was of primary importance to his films. So I was mindful of this as soon as we wrapped.

Malan Breton: As an artist we all have apprehensions towards most new ventures but with this project I sincerely felt no apprehension at all, I grew up in the theatre, as a dancer and performer, I wanted to portray and honest, and direct story of what it is that has inspired my entire life. To share with the world what was most beautiful to me, and what would give them an understanding of the people, and places that inspired my fashion.

Did it feel at all like you were venturing into unknown, and potentially treacherous territory?

B.B. – No, not at all. Taiwan is such a warm country and the people are extremely nice and it is such an easy place to visit.

M.B.– I think every new venture you take on is slightly treacherous, but I had directed, and choreographed in the theatre, and have directed many of my fashion shows that have included live elements, like one season we recreated an American in Paris theme with a 65 piece live orchestra, dancers from NYC ballet, and the collection was all created in the three standard colours of technicolour. I look at fashion as theatre, and always want people to walk away with more than the clomp clomp of a standard fashion show. With that in mind it was not treacherous at all.

What were the greatest challenges that you faced, either as a producer (Bonnie) or as the director and star (Malan) in the making of the film?

B.B.- The greatest challenges were when we were filming on location, because we had little time at each place. Another challenge was getting the film finished in time for the New York City International Film Festival. Our return from Taiwan was on March 8th and our festival premiere was on April 30th.

M.B.– The Greatest challenge one faces as a director of a project about oneself, is allowing themselves to be most vulnerable. Allowing the story to not be all that sparkles. I went back to my training at Juilliard and Circle in the Square for this one always remembering one line that affected me deeply, the concept of being private in public.

How did it feel to have A Journey to Taiwan so warmly embraced at its premiere, leading to it ultimately winning the Best Short Documentary Film award at the New York City International Film Festival?

B.B.– it was truly a dream come true and an amazing surreal feeling.

M.B.- This was a huge honour, I think when the film was announced as winner I did not quite believe it. Many a tear was shed.

You mention the timeliness of the film, with its release coinciding with the opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s China: Through the Looking Glass exhibit and the fact that it was filmed at the same time as Martin Scorsese’s new film, Silence. Can you offer any insight as to why you think there is currently so much interest in Chinese culture and lifestyle right now?

B.B.- As with everything timing is everything. Asian Culture is coming into its own now because it’s their time. Also it was only 16 hours from New York City to Taiwan on China Airlines. The rich landscapes, and majestic art, and artifacts have always been an inspiration to fashions designers. This truly exemplified in the China Through the Looking Glass exhibit. I know that Martin Scorsese was advised by Ang Lee to shoot in Taiwan because it is easy to shoot there, and the country is so cooperative.

M.B.– The interest in Asian culture, seems to be an interest in tradition, an interest in a culture that has inspired so many things through the centuries, architecture, food, fashion, even the tea we drink around the world. I feel also that people are seeking to find a place of peace inside themselves in the times we live. I think they are turning to the teachings of the old to find peace, and perhaps to grow their minds.

– Rhonda Erb

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Rhonda Erb

Rhonda Erb writes about fashion, travel and lifestyle from a New Yorker’s perspective in Better Bets. A self-confessed Instagram addict, her work has also appeared in such publications as Runway Magazine. Follow her at: Instagram: @betterbets Twitter: @betterbetsny tumblr:

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