Mothers of Modern Ireland

Q&A with editor, Zoe Chen

9th February 2012

Zoe We put some questions to our editor, Zoe Chen.

Who is Zoe Chen?
I can't tell you fully yet. I have not finished my journey. But right now, I can say Zoe Chen is a person who wants/tries to tell stories that touch people, or arouse something from viewers’ hearts.

How did you get involved with Mothers of Modern Ireland? What interested you in it?
I threw myself back to 50, 60 years ago in Ireland for a week or so, and edited a small teaser for a test. That’s how I got into Mothers of Modern Ireland.

What interested me the most was the culture and history that I am going be involved with, and those beautiful stories. I always like to listen to stories, especially stories form older generations, from which you learn how they see the world and what they gained on their journeys. I like to simply look at them telling me stories; their expression, emotion, and how they put their stories into a structure simply moves me and draws me back in time and space.

What did you do on the project?
I listened to them, unfortunately not in person. But I listened to them many times. And then I put whatever they said in categories through editing, and also kept their personalities as much as possible.

What are the differences in editing for an archive, as opposed to say, a dramatic film/short?
I guess fundamentally the difference is between fictional films and documentary films. One you have a story and you try your best to tell it, and the other, you have footage and you try to find the best stories to tell. Editing archive is more like editing documentary films. The difference between those two is, for archive, I do not have to find the links for everything they said, and I can include every single interesting or important event without worrying if it doesn’t fit in the film.

What's the challenge? What were the darkest and brightest moment?
The challenges for me were language barriers and lack of solid history background. It was difficult for me at the first to understand them fully because English is not my first language. But sometimes I feel it actually advantaged the outcome of films I have edited. Because I have language barriers, I listen carefully and repetitively and try hard to understand them word by word. I would say the second challenge is that I do not have solid history background. Although I did some research, I still felt that I have too little knowledge to start with. But that’s the reason we have this archive. After watching the footage, the ladies talked you through, and took you back in their time.

I wouldn’t say there were very dark moments. We had some different opinions and it’s so normal that it happens in every film crew, which is editors, and the people on set have different point of view towards the footage. People on set tend to have more emotion towards footage because they know how difficult to get this shot or how the interviewee exactly behave etc and etc. I think the brightest moment is we reached the point that both side are satisfied with the outcome. Regardless of the content, I’m very glad that the clips show the personality of each lady better than before we had a chance to discuss about the issues.

Do Irish grandmothers have anything to teach young Taiwanese women?
They all told me different things because they have relatively similar life, but different lives. What I learnt most from them is to be strong in life. They lived in in such a difficult time, where the economy was bad, the political situation was not stable, religions clashed, women were not valued and so on. But they were all strong, yet in different ways: it could be for themselves, for family or for the Irish people. It’s always inspiring to see people standing up and fighting for their lives.

More generally, was anything culturally jarring/odd?
The only shock for me was the power of churches and priests. Religion was a big part of people’s life, which is understandable. The unbelievable thing is the power that priests had and how they could control the society.

Which lady inspired you the most and why?
I think I have learnt a great deal form Sylvia’s interviews. She is the most active lady regarding social issues, and has done a lot of things for women's rights. She let me have a chance to learn the society she was in and what has changed after those years, which helped me to grasp a general idea how Ireland was. I always admire people who stand up and question the things, which don’t seem fair or right for them, and that makes the world different.

What now?
Now, we have to work on more ladies and show them to the world. Let everyone see their precious stories and even share their own stories with us.

Sum up Mothers of Modern Ireland in a word.

What would you like to see happen with the archive? I would be happy if - because of this archive - people start sharing their own stories. I would be happy if it gets to loads of people and touches them. I would be happy if it arouses more ideas. I would be happy if the grandmas are happy to watch it.

Did you know either of your grandmothers? Did they tell stories?
That is the secret reason why I love this project. My grand mum had loads of stories. She was a soldier-nurse in the wartime defeating the People’s Republic of China. We lost the battle and they came to Taiwan. She told me bits by bits when I was young and I always wanted to record it, but unfortunately I was too late. The stories are vague for me now. I remember she almost died because a bomb flew just above her. I remember she took a small boat to Taiwan with her mother-in-law, and she was not sure if she could see my grandfather again. What I have now is very little fragments. So when I got in this project, I was happy that I’m going to listen to other grandmas' stories and have a chance to keep them.

You can see more of Zoe's work at

- Zoe