Filmmaker tells stories of 'comfort women'
While on a study tour to Taiwan in 2009, Toronto filmmaker Tiffany Hsiung learned about an oft-overlooked element of the Second World War that changed her life forever.
Like most people, Hsiung was unaware of the "comfort women" who were taken from their homes and treated as sex slaves by soldiers throughout Asia during the war. Once she learned about the practice and the horrors those women faced, she decided she had to do something to shed light on the atrocities committed.
She set out to make a film, dubbed Within Every Woman (www.wewoman.org), to educate people about their plight, taking three extra months after her planned tour ended to speak with women who have been forced to live with the memory of their slavery.
Hsiung said she was shocked to learn that more than 200,000 girls were forced into sexual slavery, some as young as nine years old.
"A lot of them never even knew what sex was when they were forced into it," the filmmaker said.
Many committed suicide when they were captured rather than submit to rape by soldiers, while the mothers of some killed themselves after their daughters were taken.
For those who survived, living with the shame and guilt associated with their abuse has been a horrifying ordeal. Due to social taboos, many did not feel comfortable telling others of the sexual abuse they faced and were forced to bear their pain in silence.
"For a lot of women, it was years and years of self-imprisonment, not being able to share these details with their own families," Hsiung said. "Some were taken for a period of two to three weeks, four months, five months, to as long as two to three years. If you can survive being a comfort woman for two or three years and try to find a life after that, it's incredible."
Within Every Woman focuses on the stories of three women in detail and offers a greater overview on the use of "comfort women" in several Asian countries throughout the war. While the film looks at events during the Second World War, Hsiung noted the stories can have an impact on the lives of people even today.
"This may have happened 70 years ago but even today, sexual violence is still kept in darkness," she said. "I hope this helps a lot of young women come forward and not wait to talk about it if they've had to deal with sexual violence."
Hsiung, a graduate of Jarvis Collegiate Institute and Ryerson University, grew up in downtown Toronto in the Yonge and College streets area.
Her university thesis, Binding Borders, has earned accolades including the William F. Whites Equipment Grant Award, the Best Toronto Focus Film Award and the People's Choice Award at the 2007 Cabbagetown Film Festival.
The filmmaker is currently looking for funding to help share the stories of the former "comfort women," and has taken to the Internet to raise the $50,000 it will take to complete the project.
As of press time Tuesday, she had raised more than $47,000 of the $50,000 she needed at a fundraising website (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lucyzhao/within-every-woman-the-documentary-film) and hopes to raise the rest by the end of day Thursday, June 30.
Hsiung said the support she has received has reinforced the importance of her work.
"It's really hard to get funding for a project like this, but the online campaign shows me that this film needs to be made," she said.
InsideToronto Article 2011.6.28