We all have stories to tell. Some might think that the seemingly banal contents of our day-to-day lives aren’t worthy of big screens dominated by flying mutants, superheroes, and cars that transform into robots and blow stuff up, but in reality, each individual life is a universe that speaks volumes about the complexity of the human experience. Perhaps that’s why Barcelona-based filmmakers Bruno Zaffora (originally from Argentina) and Rafael Ortega Velderrain (of Mexico) decided to grab their cameras and press record when it came time for their close friend Paola Shih to reconnect with her long-lost father, a cinematic whim that ultimately led to the birth of their feature documentary Shih.
Born in Taiwan to a Taiwanese father and Venezuelan mother, Shih’s mother apparently up and left her husband when Paola was a mere infant. She took her back to Venezuela where she grew up with little knowledge of her father’s culture, unable to speak Mandarin, and unclear on why her family underwent such an abrupt rift. Now over 20 years have passed, and it is time for Paola to finally face the man who gave her life, rediscover a culture she hardly knew, and uncover the unspoken reasons behind his absence. The whole time our unflinching filmmakers have the camera fixed squarely on the action.
From looks of things, it’s an interesting spin on the trope of the deadbeat father, as Zaffora and Ortega show us a humble, sincere man with a deep well of regret gleefully welcoming his daughter back into his life. For her part, Paola is also surprisingly optimistic about the reunion, and, at least in the trailer, lacks the bitterness and anxiety that we typically associate with this type of situation. Yet the filmmakers cleverly suppress the reasons behind the family’s separation, sewing just enough intrigue to keep the spectator in her seat as we watch the fly-on-the-wall camera take in Paola’s journey in all its tenderness and discomfort.
Shih appears to be a film with a simple, human premise, free of fireworks, but with a touch of sentimentality. It convinced the judges at the Guadalajara International Film Festival (FICG) enough to bestow it with an honorable mention for the Premio Mezcal for Best Mexican Film. And wouldn’t you know – they did it without a single explosion.