Tongues of Heaven

Set in Taiwan and Hawai‘i, territories where the Austronesian family languages are spoken, TONGUES OF HEAVEN focuses on the questions, desires and challenges of young indigenous peoples to learn the languages of their forebears—languages that are endangered or facing extinction.

Four young indigenous women from divergent backgrounds collaborate and exchange ideas to consider the impact of language on identity and culture. With 96% of the world’s population speaking only 4% of the world’s languages, what does it mean to speak your mother tongue in this age of language homogenization? To put it another way, what do you lose when you lose your native language? These are just some of the questions that these women, with camera in hand, ask themselves, their families and peers.

Co-directors Shin-Lan Yu and An-Chi Chen from Taiwan, and Lei Kainoa Kaupu and Monica Hau‘oli Waiau from Hawai‘i, worked with independent filmmaker Anita Chang and field producer and Native Hawaiian educator Malia Nobrega to create this experimental documentary. TONGUES OF HEAVEN is part of ROOT TONGUE, an interactive documentary platform where participants will be able to explore the challenges of language endangerment and preservation on a personal level by sharing their own perspective through dialogue and creative expression. Users will also be able to access educational and community resources pertaining to language preservation. Visit the website here:
Pricing & Ordering
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"Anita Chang and her collaborators follow the extraordinary prehistoric expansion of the Austronesian-speaking peoples across the Pacific from Taiwan to Hawai’I, and in their journey they provide a sensitive portrait of the impending death or hoped-for rebirth of some of the languages that arose through this monumental 4,000 year old migration, one of the greatest in human history. Personal reflections and interviews with older and younger speakers of both Formosan aboriginal languages and Hawaiian illustrate the varying attitudes of members of these communities toward the value and future of their languages. Much has been written in the professional linguistics literature in recent years about language endangerment, but this film puts that message in powerful visual form, relating it to individual speakers on whom the future of an entire language or culture may depend.” - Robert A. Blust, Linguist, University of Hawai'I
“Heartfelt and immediate, the film expands their individual tales, of language both lost and found, into a universal primer of how culture is kept alive through words…” - Filmmaker Magazine
“The best thing about it was meeting An-Chi and Shin-Lan and understanding that the kind of internal struggle that I was experiencing is felt for people in all kinds of cultures and everywhere in the world, that somehow these girls from thousands of miles away understood me and that was really encouraging. Although I have a long path to go for my own goals, it has helped me continue the pursuit.” - Hau‘oli Waiau

• Director’s Citation, Black Maria Film & Video Festival
• Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival
• Hawaii International Film Festival
• Understanding Taiwan Through Film and Documentaries
• North American Taiwanese Women’s Association
• Tulane University
• DisOrient Asian American Film Festival of Oregon
• University of Oregon
• Center for Taiwan Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
• Disappearing Languages, North American Taiwanese Women’s Association
• Post-Asia Film, Media and Popular Culture, University of Macau
• Hualien Railroad Memory House, Taiwan
• Taipei Artist Village, Taiwan
• Empire Reconsidered Seminar, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan
• Hualien Tribal College, Taiwan
• Bay Area Docs, Roxie Theater, San Francisco
• Doc Night, New Parkway Theater, Oakland
• Bluelight Cinemas, Cupertino
• De Anza College, Cupertino
• Intergenerational Language Forum, National Dong Hwa University, Taiwan
• Taiwan Indigenous Literature & Culture course, National Chung Hsing University, Taiwan
• Language and World Civilization course, National Chengchi University, Taiwan
• Experimental Media Practice and Theory course, National Taiwan University of Arts
• Taipei National University of Arts, Taiwan
• Global/Local Perspectives in the Documentary Tongues of Heaven, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan
• Pineapple Underground Film Festival, Hong Kong
• Interdisciplinary Austronesian Connections Symposium, University of Hawai‘I at Mānoa
• Maysles Documentary Center, New York
• Mediatheque Screenings, Visible Evidence XXII Conference, Toronto

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TWN acknowledges that in New York we are on the unceded territory of the Lenni Lenape, Canarsie, Shinecock, and Munsee peoples and challenges the harm that continues to be inflicted upon Indigenous and People of Color communities here and abroad, which is why we all need to be part of the struggle for rights, equality and justice.

TWN is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, Color Congress, MOSAIC, New York Community Trust, Peace Development Fund, Ford Foundation, Golden Globe Foundation, Kolibri Foundation and individual donors.