Documentary fortnight day 1: A Slice Room, Sanggyedong Olympics + 6 Day Struggle at Myeongdong Cathedral

Day 1 of the London Korean Film Festival Summer Documentary Fortnight. All events free.

A Slice Room (사람이 산다)

+ Conversation with Song Yun-hyeok and Nam In Young
Director: Song Yun-hyeok (2016, 69 min)
Birkbeck Cinema | 43 Gordon Square | London WC1H 0PD
Saturday 11 Aug 2018 11:30 am | Book tickets
followed by a lunch break. Korean dishes will be provided.

A Slice Room

Behind the image of prosperity of contemporary South Korea lies a stark social reality which pushes the poorest in society to live in the streets and in shanty towns, forced to suffer poor living conditions and little access to welfare benefits. These residencial areas, known as “jjokbangchon” (villages of slice or cubicle rooms) are home to thousands of people, many of them elderly men and women struggling with illness and extreme poverty. Drawing on his experience  as a social worker and activist, Song Yun-hyeok made this film to advocate for these people’s rights and uses his camera to dress a portrait of the current shortcomings of the South Korean’s welfare system. He focuses on the lives of a few people he befriended while he was temporarily living in the neighborhood, as they try to find ways out of their situation. He films a newly wed couple, Il-soo and Sun-hee, follows a man, Nam-sung, as he struggles to obtain his welfare payments, and talks to another man, Chan-hyun, struggling with depression. The residents articulate their dissatisfaction at their perceived lack of support and assistance. A Slice Room is a strong portrait of these communities and the threats they face and it is committed to bring some awareness and change to these people’s lives.  The film also shows the tireless work done by social organisations as they try to help people in their daily struggles.

Double Bill: The Sanggyedong Olympics + The 6 Day Struggle at the Myeongdong Cathedral

+ Conversation with Kim Dong Won and Nam In Young
Birkbeck Cinema, 11 August 2018 2:30 pm | Book tickets
Followed by drinks reception.

The Sanggyedong Olympics (상계동 올림픽)

Director: Kim Dong-won (1988, 27 mins)

The Sanggyedong Olympics

1988 was the year of the Seoul Olympics, the very first high-profile international event to ever be held in South Korea. Under the auspices of preparing for the event, the government planned and pursued ‘redevelopment’ projects in 50 selected areas of the capital. Sanggyedong, a neighbourhood located on the Northeastern outskirts of Seoul, and home to more than 1,500 families, was one such area. In 1986 forced demolition began on a plot where 160 families still resided. The community of residents resisted, urging they be given the time to find alternative housing prior to the demolition; in the process several people were harassed, arrested, and four local residents died. Following their eviction from Sanggyedong, their human rights continued to be violated due to their failure to follow “legitimate procedure” through their attempts to rebuild their homes elsewhere. They did not fit in with the image of South Korea the government wanted to project to the outside world. The camera records the unethical treatment handed down to the people of Sanggyedong and their continuing strife after they were displaced to Myeongdong and Bucheon. The film allows us to get a glimpse of  the courage of these individuals in the face of such trials, and their unwillingness to give up on their struggle against the systematic oppression they faced simply for wanting to rebuild their homes, and re-establish their community.

The film is credited as “Produced by the Sanggye-dong Community”, and narrated by one of the residents themselves, from the point of view of the community. (The film serves and represents their voices.) In less than 30 minutes, the film offers a powerful account of the residents’ three-year long struggle. Kim Dongwon initially went to film the site in 1985, after being asked by those from the neighbourhood to come just for one day to record their struggle, but he instead ended up living with them as part of the community for over three years. As such, the film demonstrates how the process of documentary filmmaking can become an integral part of the lives of both the subject and the filmmaker, and how filmmaking as a process has the power to change the lives of those involved.

The 6 Day Struggle at the Myeongdong Cathedral (명성, 그 6일의 기록)

Director: Kim Dong-won (1997, 74 mins)

6 Day Struggle at the Myeongdong Cathedral

From the evening of the 10th to the afternoon of 15th of June 1987, hundreds of student protesters and ordinary citizens found themselves having to take refuge from riot police and staging a sit-in protest at the Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul. Located in the main shopping district in the centre of the city, the Myeongdong Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Seoul and a notable symbol of Roman Catholicism in Korea. That evening marked the beginning of the June Democracy Movement, which took place over the following 19 days, across the country. In the preceding months, a number of incidents began to build animosity between the Korean people and the government, notably the case of the student protester Park Jong-chul’s torture and subsequent death. However, it was President Chun Doo-hwan’s announcement of Roh Tae-woo as the next presidential candidate, largely perceived as handing Roh the presidency and obstructing the path to democracy, that finally triggered large-scale protests. The Myeongdong Cathedral sit-in protest ended on the 15th of June, after the participants, including the Seoul Student Federation and the Myeongdong Cathedral authorities, voted narrowly to end their protest. Despite this, the protest is considered as a significant event in the struggle for democracy, and provided inspiration for the mass-organised civil rights movement in Korea.

This film, made between 1996 and 1997, is an attempt to reflect on and make collective sense of the course of events. It weaves its narrative through a mixture of film footage and newsreel, along with interviews with some of the participants of the protest reflecting on the events after a decade has passed. Film footage and eye witness accounts reveal the development of the protest, both the hopes and the disagreements of the protesters, as well as the political background to the event. Above all, the film focuses on the sudden dispersal of this very symbolic protest in Myeongdong, a protest which captured the attention of people not only in Korea, but throughout the entire world.

(automatically generated) Read LKL’s review of this event here.

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