“I especially enjoy teaching [students]
when they’re first coming in because
they’re so open to experimenting.”
Wenhwa Ts’ao 曹雯華（美術系前身-美工科畢業-1984年）
美國電影學會（American Film Institute）是美國政府以國家藝術基金設立，目的在培養優秀的電影工作者。旗下的女性導演工作協會（DWW）每年選出8名傑出女性導演，並贊助拍攝電影，希望鼓勵女性加入導演行列。獲得這份榮耀的哥倫比亞芝加哥學院（ Columbia College Chicago）教授曹雯華，則是協會自 1974年成立以來，第一個獲得這項殊榮的台灣導演。
Coming to America
Born and raised in Taiwan, Ts’ao grew up impoverished and with undiagnosed dyslexia, which cost her the opportunity to be properly educated. At age 17, she met a Catholic priest who offered a course in Super 8 filmmaking. Although Ts’ao had only been exposed to Chinese propaganda films as a child, she was intrigued by the silver screen and immediately seized the opportunity to explore the craft.
Unafraid to tackle difficult subjects, Ts’ao made her first film about the relationship of a lesbian couple living in rural Taiwan. Although controversial, the film helped those around her realize that she was serious about filmmaking. The priest encouraged Ts’ao to pursue a film education in the United States, where she received a BA in photography, then received a full scholarship to pursue an MFA degree in Photography and Film at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Driven by Stories
At Columbia, Ts’ao teaches foundations classes to freshmen and transfer students, as well as graduate directing courses.
“I love our student body,” she says. “I especially enjoy teaching them when they’re first coming in because they’re so open to experimenting. I’m always inspired by their passion.”
For graduate students, Ts’ao is more of a mentor than a teacher. “We don’t choose our graduate students based solely on the work they did as an undergrad, or on their level of technical proficiency,” she says. “Instead, we select people who have stories to tell.” Ts’ao helps students find the best ways to tell those stories.
In addition to teaching, Ts’ao still finds time to make her own films. Her sci-fi film Nova (made with help from Taiwanese Culture University) centers on a geneticist who creates a cyborg daughter to love him. Snakehead, a film about sex trafficking, earned first place in the Las Vegas International Film Festival, Cinema City International Film Festival, and Indie Producer.
“My work focuses on issues related to the Chinese-American experience, especially the immigrant experience,” she says. “You can’t stop human beings from pursuing a better life for themselves.”