PART OF OUR
“A FOCUS ON KANGYU GARAM” (Part 2)
[* Regular readers of Mini Mini Movie will know that we nearly always use a play on words for article titles, and with ones relating to Interviews we play with a film title connected to the interviewee. Read on to see where we got “Candle Waving Female” from.]
Anyway, on with the show [rather than “show-offing”!]…
강유 가람 (KANGYU GA-RAM)
Over the last decade, Mini Mini Movie – aka Jason Verney – has interviewed a lot of individuals [either for this website or for a Korean documentary which hasn’t yet seen the light of day] and these range from film directors, actors, producers, to cinematographers, musicians & more. Although these are not all Korean (these few, for a start: ……) the majority have been and are often big names in Korean cinema –
Sometimes though, an interview takes place and then for whatever reason – be it a technical issue, transcription hiccups [not literally!], a timing problem or simply time itself – that discussion doesn’t make it to this website.
That almost happened with the below PREVIOUSLY UNPUBLISHED interview.
Who is this interview about and with? Well, firstly, avid viewers or attendees of the London Korean Film Festival (LKFF), and events by them and the Korean Cultural Centre, London/UK [KCCUK – after all, the LKFF is going thanks to those at the KCCUK!], will know of the special year-long film programmes or seasons which occur every year, and this year has been no different.
Sure, much of 2020 has been under the spell or grip of a PANDEMIC but the KCCUK & LKFF guys have pulled through and even brought such film seasons to the small screen [laptop, phone etc]. One of those seasons or result of certain programming resulted in Garam Kangyu’s debut documentary, “MY FATHER’S HOUSE”. It played on the KCCUK’s YouTube channel a few months ago, and was mentioned in this article of MMM’s about FREE Korean films available (many of which still are!):
Not only that, Garam Kangyu’s feature documentary “ITAEWON” is a part of the LONDON KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL 2020. Those who attended that festival in 2017 will recall another film by Garam Kangyu, “CANDLE WAVE FEMINISTS” [review here] and that film is the main subject of the INTERVIEW in this article.
The following group interview [MiniMiniMovie.com and HangulCelluloid.com] took place on 30th October 2017 at the Korean Culture Centre, London and during the 2017 London Korean Film Festival.
Mini Mini Movie: I wanted to start with questions related to the women interviewed in the film. Were the interviewees simply members of the groups mentioned or leaders, or indeed founders?
Also, I noticed that some of the members from different groups are seen marching together – Did they all know each other? Finally, how did you meet them?
Kangyu Ga-ram: The interviewees in the film consisted of those from the 2016 Candlelight protests. However, before those protests and from the end of 2015 and during 2016 there were also quite strong feminist activist movements being formed through a certain website. There were also activists resulting from the tragic incident of ‘Gangnam Station Exit No. 10‘. So, these were all the people who were involved in these kind of feminist activist movements. Even before all that, some of them were involved with anti-abortion activism. These women were not necessarily leaders of groups but they were active members. Such anti-abortion movements and protests were happening pretty much simultaneously with others.
I was always interested in young feminist groups and followed them and shot quite a bit of their protests. Then, around the time when the Candlelight movement started to happen they began to join and make their own groups within this Candlelight protest movement. Around that time, Kim Il-rhan, who was co-director of the film [“Candle Wave Feminists”] told me that films were being shown as part of the “Pinks” feminist collective. We spoke to some of the documentary filmmaker activists and suggested that maybe we should document this significant event. So, 70 or 80 documentary filmmakers joined and they decided to document it and so I also joined that group. During the two or three months leading up to January 2017, when there was already the idea of a [President] Park Geun-hye impeachment taking place, all the members who particapated in documenting the event discussed that perhaps they should put this together and make an omnibus film.
Therefore, I contributed and with my film focusing on the feminist group within the Candlelight protests as part of the omnibus film, and later on I expanded this version and submitted it to Seoul International Women’s Film Festival.
Hangul Celluloid: If you look back a few years ago at films like The Crucible (it was also called Silenced) in which it told the story of abuse of deaf children at a school, that film resulted in changes in the law to protect children. Whereas, if you compare that with screenings I watched a couple years ago at a specific Korean festival in Korea, which had repeated mysogony in them, and which offended me deeply… What are your thoughts, seeing are as you’ve made a film to raise awareness of sensitive issues?
How do you feel film is seen – in general, in documentary and on a personal level – as either a good or a bad force in terms of reinforcing stereotypes or highlighting social issues? And where do you see the balance between film as a good thing and film as a bad thing?
Kangyu Ga-ram: Contemporary Korean cinema in general… well, its really hard to say one way or the other. With big commercial films you constantly see male centric kind of characters. You know, solidarity & brotherhood amongst themselves, and of course this influences the way people view women and the mysogynic perspective etc. But from recent years we know that a lot of women filmmakers do make strong films in the industry, and also within the documentary filmmaking scene, and obviously there are more sensitive approaches and ethical approaches evident. And I do think its kind of both… we see both the negative side but at the same time there is a positive side or hope within it.
In recent years the interpretation of women characters or the perception of women characters are, I think, changing. An example is “I Can Speak”. That’s a good example. Creating these new characters, different characters, female characters, I think, does affect how people see women in film.
Mini Mini Movie: Leading on from Paul’s question, and related to mysogony, there is a part in the film where someone says, regarding the Candlelight Marches, “they couldn’t have reached a million marchers if it wasn’t for a bit of mysogony” and I wondered what your thoughts on that are? And whether you agree with that?
Also, when you were filming I wondered whether there was any excessive harassment which you couldn’t show, perhaps due to the people involved or for whatever reason?
Kangyu Ga-ram: Of course, the Park Geun-hye administration has clearly done a lot of irresponsible things, but the scale of the Candlelight protest was defintely beyond what I anticipated. I was quite surprised and I think there was some sort of mysogynistuc motive that pushed that so far. This is why I put this discussion in the film… I share that view to a certain degree. And yet, whenever I share this thought with people, I do have a lot of disagreements on it. People think “still, Park Geun-hye has done this, and this” etc. So its a kind of difficult thing to discuss.
There are lots and lots of misogynistic comments also on social media, and not just physically, so I sort of used a lot, or put things in that I had documented myself. As briefly mentioned in the film, there were lots of empty, horrendous comments, on the Femidandang [the main group] online spaces and some were deleted later. I tried to capture it as best as I could.
There was also that video on YouTube upon which there were loads of really terrible comments and were even hard for me to read, and so I could only imagine how emotionally difficult it must have been for the members.
Hangul Celluloid: Over the years I’ve spoken to a lot of directiors who have talked about how hard it is to make films in Korea. I have talked to short film directors who have said its hard to make short films and I’ve talked to directors who make films with sensitive issues who have said it’s hard. You’re a female director, you’ve made a short about a sensitive issue… its all of the above. Can you talk a little bit about the difficulties you had in making the film, and in getting it screened?
Kangyu Ga-ram: Yes, its hard to make independent films in Korea and especially hard to deal with these sorts of issues, the ones I’m interested in exploring. It’s very hard to get support when you make feminist perspective films. When I submit to festivals and juries I don’t know if my very specific perspectives are understood. Of course, It’s hard to produce these films but also distribution is another issue. I feel like, with these sorts of films, they always have a very limited distribution plan and that is the reality as well, and often only in local women’s film festivals. I’m very interesting in meeting broader audiences but how to make that happen is always a challenge.
Hangul Celluloid: I think that could also be said even about feature length documentaries. Recent ones on abortion that were really hard hitting moved me deeply, although only I got to see it because I get access and not everyone gets to see those things. I think that’s really sad.
Kangyu Ga-ram and interpreter HyunJin agree.
Mini Mini Movie: Sometimes people say it’s easier to get distribution for a 70 or 90 minute film than a 40 minute film. I wonder if you have interviews and other footage to make a longer film, if you needed to?
Also, a more technical question regarding the interviews. The interviewees were always looking away from the camera, and although I’m aware of various techniques of filming – to the side, or at an angle etc – I wonder if there was any significance or message being conveyed?
Kangyu Ga-ram: Like I said, I initially joined the big group of documentary filmmakers to document the Candlelight protests and later on decided to focus on the feminist group. So, I felt like maybe I didn’t have enough footage for the whole journey and because this project was part of this bigger omnibus one & a lot of other documentary filmmakers had shots of the protests, I made a reduction and selected a few shots. Also, I wanted to focus on the meaning of the existence of this feminist zone [FemiZone] within this, instead of documenting them solely under a spotlight.
I had two cameras and shot both from frontal and side positions but then thought it felt more comfortable in these positions, as if the interviewees were having a conversation.
Hangul Celluloid: In terms of feminism and the dangers of reprisals that have been going on, were the people that you interviewed fully willing to be shown on camera? Were there people that you tried to interview that didn’t want to be seen because of the fear of reprisals?
Kangyu Ga-ram: About the Ewha protest, I know that they all decided, as a collective, to cover the face… so there’s no exposure as to who’s leading the group. It was a group decision. Yes, there have been cases that were extremely sensitive being filmed, but with this film everyone understood this problem and they took courage to really fight against this issue… so everyone I interviewed for this film were very willing to put themselves on camera.
Mini Mini Movie: What was the biggest fear about putting the film “SQUARE” [omnibus in which Candle Wave Feminists was also a part of] out there?
How well was were both films received?
Kangyu Ga-ram: This was film was shown mainly in the film festival context.
People praised so highly the extreme courage of all the interviewees who took part in this film. Definitely though, this film exemplified the extremely diverse voices within the Candlelight protests – Not just regarding how feminist issues were shown or handled but also about how other minority issues, within the protests, were highlighted in this film.
Hangul Celluloid: President Park did a lot of bad things but do you feel, in some way, she almost helped push the feminist movement forward and therefore – because feminists felt so strongly about what she had done wrong – they needed to stand up and say “What she did wrong was because she was a bad politician, not because she is a woman”?
Do you think her wrongdoings forced people to be brave and say ‘this is nothing to do with feminism, and I’m a feminist’?
Kangyu Ga-ram: There are two sides to the argument, you could say. This has kind of provided an opportunity for us to think about what it means to have a female president, whilst it also pushed activists to be even more courageous with their beliefs etc. But this was also providing a motive for people to have a really negative idea about female leaders, as shown in this film. It took more than 100 years to have a female president, and potentially now there will be an even more misogynistic perspective on any such female leaders.