Chao Center to host screening of ‘Returning Souls’ documentary March 24

Rice University’s Chao Center for Asian Studies, the Asia Society of Texas and Taiwan Academy will co-host a screening of the award-winning documentary film “Returning Souls” March 24 at the Asia Society Texas, located at 1370 Southmore. A public reception will take place at 3 p.m., followed by the screening at 4 p.m.

Returning souls“Returning Souls” tells the story of the recovery of lost tribal icons by Taiwan’s Amis tribe and interweaves three of their cultural legends with modern realities. The lost icons are three wooden pillars with carvings of Amis ancestors that were removed from their community by anthropologists in 1958 following a hurricane. The Amis believed that when the pillars were taken, the souls of their ancestors were also taken away. The film traces efforts by the young Amis members to return these “souls” to the village.

The event will include a performance of the solo violin piece “Returning Souls: Four Short Pieces on Three Formosan Amis Legends,” adapted from the original film score composed by Rice Associate Professor of Composition and Theory Shih-Hui Chen.

Chen met “Returning Souls” filmmaker Hu Tai-Li in 2010 while working in Taiwan with the support of a Fulbright Scholar grant. Chen spent a year studying the music of the Han and indigenous people there. While a visiting scholar at Taipei’s Academia Sinica, she met Hu, who invited her to collaborate on “Returning Souls.”  Over the next year, Chen composed the score for the film. The main melody throughout is based upon a song improvised by one of the Amis tribal elders.

Since its debut, “Returning Souls” has been selected for competition at film festivals in Italy, Moscow, Taipei and San Francisco. Most recently, it won the 2012 Jean Rouch International Ethnographic Film Festival’s Mention du Patrimoine Culturel Immateriel Award.

Both Tai-Li and Chen will be present at the event to answer questions about the documentary. They will host similar multidisciplinary events promoting the film at the University of Texas-Austin, Columbia University, Harvard University, Michigan State University and the University of California-Berkeley. For the complete tour schedule, visit

Tickets for the Asia Society Texas event are $5 and can be purchased online at For more information on the documentary, visit

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.