Battle-scarred Taiwanese islands star in Oscar nominated film

By Ben Blanchard and Fabian Hamacher

TAIPEI (Reuters) - A film about frontline Taiwanese islands repeatedly fought over with China during the height of the Cold War is vying to win an Oscar this year, with its director hoping the attention will help better explain tensions over Taiwan to a broader audience.

Taiwanese-American director S. Leo Chiang's 19 minute-long "Island in Between", available to watch on YouTube, tells the story of Kinmen, a small island group which hugs the Chinese coast.

Kinmen has been controlled by Taiwan since the Chinese civil war ended in 1949, and was the site of pitched battles in the 1950s as Beijing launched waves of attacks.

Chiang told Reuters he felt the time was right to revisit the history of Kinmen, now a popular tourist destination, given China's sabre rattling over Taiwan, including war games in 2022 after then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei.

China says democratically governed Taiwan is part of its territory, despite the objections of the government in Taipei.

"I think people are more interested in Taiwan than ever, at least in a long, long time. We're definitely taking advantage of that interest," Chiang said.

"Life is very normal here. People are not exactly sitting around fretting and pulling their hair out. But in Kinmen it's a different story."

Old bunkers and buildings riddled with bullet holes stand testament to Kinmen's battle-scarred past, and the film opens with an abandoned tank half submerged under the sand on a beach, its gun pointing out to sea. Martial law only ended on the islands in 1992, five years later than Taiwan.

Chiang, whose father did his military service on Kinmen in 1968, said he aimed to use the island as a visual representation of the tensions with China, but also to ultimately tell a story about what it means to be Taiwanese.

"At least for me, I still embrace my Chinese cultural and historical and ethnic connection, but in terms of national identity I'm very vocal about being Taiwanese," he added.

"Island in Between" is nominated for best documentary short film. The Academy Awards ceremony will be held on March 10.

As for his next project, Chiang said he was considering making a film about the late, staunchly anti-Communist Taiwanese singer Teresa Teng, whose songs were broadcast at China from giant loud speakers on Kinmen and remain wildly popular throughout the Chinese-speaking world.

"I don't think people understand how iconic she was," he said.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Fabian Hamacher; editing by Miral Fahmy)