French filmmaker obtains citizenship for cultural contributions
By Hung Chien-lun and Joseph Yeh, CNA staff reporter and writer
A French filmmaker who has documented Taiwanese culture over the past two decades has received approval of his naturalization request for his contributions to the promotion of local culture overseas.
Speaking to CNA during a recent interview in fluent Mandarin, Jean-Robert Thomann, who won the 2018 Taiwan-France Cultural Awards, thanked Taiwan's government for approving his application after receiving notification of the approval on Oct. 30.
The 48-year-old Thomann's first encounter with Taiwan was in March 1996 when he came here due to his love for movies, accompanied by his then Taiwanese girlfriend whom he met in France.
Thomann was working as a film editor at a Paris TV station at the time, and to him and to others in France, Taipei in the 1990s was the city of movies because the directors who had gained fame in Taiwan were beginning to shine on the world stage.
Among them were Hou Hsiao-hsien (侯孝賢), Edward Yang (楊德昌) and Tsai Ming-liang (蔡明亮).
He quickly developed an affinity for Taiwan through his girlfriend, who introduced him to the local street food and tea drinking culture, and he also started to learn Chinese.
After that first visit, he regularly returned to Taiwan every year, and decided to make documentaries about Taiwan to give greater exposure of its beauty to people in France.
Now, 23 years since his first visit, he has made 16 documentaries on Taiwanese culture and two feature films.
They cover a broad range of topics, from Taiwanese opera, hand puppetry shows, calligraphy, and aboriginal music, to Taiwan's presidential elections in 2004 and 2008.
Most of that time, Thomann worked as a freelancer, and unable to get a work visa in that capacity, he could only stay in Taiwan for a maximum of three months for visa-free entry.
In 2009, he settled permanently in Taiwan and met his future wife, whom he married in 2014.
It wasn't until earlier this year, however, that he decided to pursue Taiwan citizenship after the district office in Wanhua, where he lives, informed him of the opportunity to be naturalized without having to give up his French citizenship.
The opportunity exists because of amendments to the Nationality Act passed in December 2016, pushed through as part of government efforts to recruit and retain top talent from around the world.
The measure allowed high-level foreign professionals or those having significant contributions to Taiwan to obtain citizenship without relinquishing their original nationality.
Previously, applicants had to give up their original citizenship to become a Taiwan citizen, making many reluctant to do so.
To date, 111 foreign professionals have taken advantage after meeting special requirements in the fields of education, economics, medicine, agricultural machinery, culture and the arts, according to the Ministry of the Interior, and Thomann is thankful that the Wanhua District Office pointed him in this direction.
Aside from making films, Thomann now teaches at Taoyuan-based Chung Yuan Christian University and is studying for a master's degree in National Taiwan University of Arts' Department of Motion Picture, sharing his expertise while continuing to sharpen his own skills.
At the same time, he maintains his interest in Taiwanese politics, especially now that he is a citizen, and said he sincerely hopes that Taiwan can continue to keep its cherished democracy and freedom for decades to come.
As a Frenchman, he said, he has seen the rise of far right politicians in France and elsewhere in the European Union, leading to weakened democracies and hoped the same will not happen here.
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