Established in 2002, URBAN NOMAD, has been called a “mini-SXSW” and “Taiwan’s most punk rock film festival.” It is an independent platform for film, music, and art, operating an annual 10-day film festival, a 2-day outdoor music festival and other events. Film festival sections include a curated section for international independent films and a competition section for Taiwanese films. Urban Nomad’s mission is to create dialogue between cutting edge ideas and local communities, causes and social movements. We aim to present the newest films and ideas on art, music, creativity, technology, environmental and activist movements, social transformation and culture in general. Attendance is 10,000-15,000 total visits per year.
Urban Nomad’s mission is to serve as a creative platform to 1) introduce the newest, most innovative international creators to Taiwan, 2) support Taiwan’s emerging creative talents, and 3) facilitate interaction between Taiwanese and international creators in a free, creative environment.
Urban Nomad is mainly supported by fans, a growing collection of likeminded sponsors, and is a rarity in Taiwan as a major culture event that is not wholly reliant on government funding.
ABOUT THE FILM FESTIVAL
The URBAN NOMAD FILM FEST takes place in central Taipei in April and May, with touring screenings throughout the year to other cities in Taiwan. Feature films must be local premieres, and we’ve previously hosted Taiwan premieres for the Oscar-winning documentary THE COVE and Oscar-nominated documentaries THE ACT OF KILLING, MINDING THE GAP, and numerous award-winning films from Sundance, Berlin, SXSW and other top festivals. Urban Nomad has been invited to create film programs for the Taipei Biennial (2008), the Scope Art Fair in Basel (2007), Scope Art Fair Miami (2007), Videotage Hong Kong (2008), Art Taipei (2009), Treasure Hill Artist Village (2010) and Taiwan Designers Week (2011-2012).
ABOUT THE MUSIC FESTIVAL
Our annual music festival, URBAN NOMAD FREAKOUT MUSIC FEST, brings bands from Taiwan, Asia, Europe and North America. It all began in 2008, when we decided to create an opening party for the Urban Nomad Film Fest featuring bands and DJs in a closed down 1970s era Taiwanese “Red Envelope Club”, the Paris Nightclub. This kicked off more than a decade of musical events inviting to Taiwan the best, weirdest, most outrageous and powerful indie musical acts we can find. We’ve produced concerts for bands and DJs including MAJOR LAZER, DIPLO, ANGELO MOORE (Fishbone), GUITAR WOLF, BOB LOG III, MARK REEDER, MOUSE ON THE KEYS, TRIPPPLE NIPPPLES, MOP OF HEAD, KINOCO HOTEL, FERMIN MUGURUZA and numerous top Taiwanese indie bands.
ABOUT THE FESTIVAL’S NAME
Most film festivals are named after their home city (Cannes, Sundance, Berlin, Venice), and smaller festivals sometimes also claim a genre (Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival or the Annecy Animated Film Festival). Urban Nomad has chosen a completely different kind of identity, a festival name that denies a specific geographic location and declares itself to be transient and nomadic. At the start of the festival, I found it fairly ridiculous to unilaterally declare the festival to represent Taipei or Taiwan (where the festival is based) or some certain genre of filmmaking or some type of scene (underground, indie, digital, or so on). Who were we to claim to represent the five million people of Taipei? Or to imagine that we were the leaders of some sort of underground scene? But that’s about as much as I thought about it. The festival was an art project, and for the first 10 or 12 years we never measured ourselves against Taiwan’s larger film festivals, much less the most famous film festivals in the world. Later we did realize that we were starting to inhabit the same space as some larger film festivals (competing for calendar space, festival staff, film premieres, etc). Though we are proud to be based in Taipei, we have never aspired to represent a specific place.
Urban Nomad was rather loosely conceived as a “gathering of the tribes”, a kind of open creative platform where different creative groups and subculture communities could come together. So the name was neutral, the identity was variable and perhaps chameleon-like, but the idea was also for a genuine meeting place for discussion and exchange. The groups we had in mind included the many aesthetic communities related to music (punk, metal, reggae, jazz, hip hop, electronic, etc.); contemporary art, photography, digital arts and other creative forms; skateboarding, surfing and extreme sports; activists for the environment, human rights, democracy or other social issues; LGBTQ and other gender movements; and other emerging and networked communities of our globalized, urbanized world. We had some of these groups in mind from the beginning, while others later found us, or we found them. What they have in common is that theirs are generally new histories, most still in the process of being written. As a place for expressing such histories, Urban Nomad sought to confer value and legitimacy to these new realities, and also in a more general way to better understand the world we live in.
The specific theoretical idea of the “urban nomad” is one we borrowed from the British architect and theorist Neil Leach. In January 2002, Leach had been invited to Taipei for an architecture conference called Urban Flashes, which was a theoretical discussion of cities. He delivered a paper titled “Urban Camouflage” that introduced the idea that identity is increasingly related to global social networks as opposed to geography. In other words, your identity may be more about your being an architect, venture capitalist, or punk rock musician than the fact that you were born in San Diego, Hamburg or Yokohama. Leach writes, “Identity is constituted less today by the static notions of hometown…and more by transient articulations such as one’s profession, salary or car,” or, what soon becomes a point of significant emphasis in his essay, “lifestyle”. He talked of a new breed or class that traveled between urban nodes –– Taipei-Tokyo-London-Moscow –– without ever truly changing environments. Wherever they go, they are still architects, venture capitalists or punk rock musicians, and what’s more, every city on earth has environments readymade for them: hotels, investment centers and music venues, which make it feel like they’ve never really left “home.” In other words, “home” used to designate a place, but can now also designate a network.
Having moved halfway around the world, from the US to Taiwan in the mid-1990s, this made a hell of a lot of sense to us in the first year of the festival. In Taipei, we were finding the networks we expected to find, imagining ourselves more like a vanguard of global skateboarders or punk rockers rather than pilgrims who’d departed a home culture to immerse themselves in martial arts or brush calligraphy. We found the bars, clubs, music halls, and underground art happenings that we believed should be there, and in some ways we helped make them. In many respects, we were the the global transient identity shifters Leach was talking about, though a more street level version. He called this new type the “urban nomads.”
We chose the name more or less intuitively and gave it to an event which we were planning as a one-off –– the Urban Nomad Film Fest. It sounded good and it felt right. The theoretical underpinnings also made a lot of sense, but it was only after years of people asking us about the name that we started to formulate this more specific answer that I’ve just described.
We had not necessarily planned to have a second year, but the first year was a “big success”, mainly meaning that we sold a lot of beer. More importantly for the longterm, however, we also discovered a community of filmmakers eager to use our makeshift film festival as a platform, and so the next year we held Urban Nomad again. The festival has carried on this way ever sense, existing year to year, growing perhaps, from converted warehouses to commercial cinemas and back again, but always wandering into the future nomadically, existing as an annual gathering place for various types of urban nomads. It will go on, perhaps, as long as we have the means to maintain the platform and as long as they chose to come together.