Documentary on a New Zealand Father’s Search for Son in Taiwan Opens in Theatres

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An award-winning documentary that follows the journey of a New Zealand man who searched for his missing son in Taiwan is now playing in theatres in Taiwan.

The film, titled “Phil’s Journey”, covers the experiences of New Zealand sculptor Phil Tchernegovski, whose son Reuben went missing in the Alishan area in 1998 while he was on a solo backpacking trip. The film chronicles the steps the father took to find his son, including six trips to Taiwan between 1998 and 2002, and the affinity that he developed for Taiwan and its people over this time, even though his son was never found.

The Taiwanese director Chen Yeong-rury (陳勇瑞) initially came across the story in a book he picked up to read before a flight, entitled “15 Asteroids (十五顆小行星),” by Liu Ka-shiang (劉克襄). The first story in the book was about Tchernegovski and, according to Chen, it brought him to tears on the plane. He became determined to convert the story into a film.

He was able to get in touch with Tchernegovski with the help of Liu and Taiwanese expats in New Zealand. Chen flew to New Zealand to advance the project and also flew Tchernegovski to Taiwan. They retraced the footsteps that Tchernegovski took many years ago while he was searching for Reuben and visited the indigenous Tsou people from Alishan’s Fongshan and Laiji Villages, who helped Tchernegovski’s search during his earlier trips and counselled him to let go of his son at that time.

The documentary has been shown at several film festivals and has won multiple awards, including the Best Asian Film Award at the International World Film Awards and Best Documentary at the 7th Art Independent International Film Festival and the Port Blair International Film Festival.

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