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Living Memories – the KCC’s summer season of documentaries

Continuing a summer tradition, the KCC’s film nights for late July and August focus on the documentay genre, in a season developed in collaboration with Birkbeck.

Below is the official press release that tells you about the season. All of the films look well worth your time. We’ll be prioritising Im Heung-soon’s award-winning Factory Complex which we haven’t had a chance to see yet; and Yang Yonghi’s attempt to piece together the story of 1948 turmoil in Jeju through the fragmenting memories of her mother also seems to be a must-see.

Living Memories: Korean Film Nights 2022 Summer Season

This summer will see the Korean Cultural Centre UK (KCCUK) welcoming a new season of Korean Film Nights (KFN) 2022, Living Memories, dedicated to documentary filmmaking. Programmed with the Birkbeck, University of London, Film Programming and Curating MA students, screenings will take place at the KCCUK and Birkbeck Cinema, free of charge, with seats booking via www.koreanfilm.co.uk.

The Living Memories programme offers five documentary films that draw together the frequently overlooked and undervalued labours of women and workers, whether physical or emotional, often ignored as witness accounts in relation to historical legacies. In the curated selection, filmmakers turn to spoken testimonies and lived experiences to piece together both personal stories and their place within the larger, collective narrative of Korean history. While an ode to documentary filmmaking as an art of archiving and preserving memories, these films, nevertheless, are also questioning how much can memories be relied on as legacies, revealing them to be often fragmentary and episodic, a blend of personal and objective.

still from Under Construction

The season opens with a ‘prelude’ screening at the Birkbeck Cinema of Jang Yun-mi’s award-winning first feature Under Construction (2018) a piece that follows the routine of construction worker Sudeok that gradually plunges into the physical, emotional and mental impact of his forty-year career. As the filmmaker-subject relationship soon reveals itself to also be a daughter-father one, so the narrative progresses to an intimate portrait. This screening is accompanied by a pre-recorded Q&A with the director.

The core section of the Living Memories season is formed by three documentaries that focus on the legacies, loves and losses of elder women; often, the matriarch figures: Daniel Kim’s Halmoni (2017), Yang Yonghi’s Soup and Ideology (2021) and Park Hyuck-jee’s With or Without You (2015). All three films will screen at the KCCUK.

Family relations, as well as questions of identity and belonging frame the narratives in both Halmoni and Soup and Ideology. The filmmakers reflect on their own identities, through the personal ties to their subjects, making the stories also autobiographical: Daniel Kim explores the meaning of cultural identity through the hard work of his grandmother, who built home as an immigrant in Argentina; Yang Yonghi unpicks the past of her mother and how that informs their present-day relationship.

Halmoni

Halmoni reflects on the value of work and the identity of a Korean family that lived longer in Argentina than in their homeland. Born and raised in Ushuaia, Argentina, the filmmaker grew up on the mountain and the fields, helping his grandmother and parents in the family’s farm fields, along with his cousins, also sons and daughters of other Korean emigrants, yet finding it difficult to define his cultural belonging: wanting to be an Argentine but without disregarding the manners of his family. As his Halmoni (meaning grandmother in Korean) still tends to her greenhouses 40 years on, labour and perseverance emerge as a representation of his grandparents’ belief in making things grow being the most important value of their cultural identity. This screening is accompanied by a pre-recorded Q&A with the director.

Soup and Ideology

Similarly, Soup and Ideology is also a reflection on constructed identities, and a process of personal healing as well as a historical reparation. Nine years after Yang’s last film of the Pyongyang Trilogy, in which she explores family identity and the relationship with North Korea, Soup and Ideology continues this personal journey through piecing together her present with her mother’s past. After suffering an aneurysm, Yang’s mother starts revealing tragic memories of her fleeing Korea during the Jeju incident in 1948. Yang, herself born in Osaka, Japan, as a second-generation Korean resident known as “Zainichi”, renews regular visits to her mother in a bid to find understanding amid ideological differences. Soup and Ideology was the opening film of the 13th DMZ International Documentary Film Festival and won the Grand Prize of international category.

With or Without You

Park Hyuck-jee’s With or Without You explores a different take on family arrangements in the strength of the bond between two women living together, despite not being biologically related: Magg-i and Chun-hee lived for 45 years under one roof as wives of one man, with the older, Magg-i, looking after Chun-hee almost like a parent. After their husband has passed, the two elderly women continue to share the same house and a tender relationship blessed by moments of wit and humour. The director worked on the documentary since 2011, visiting the two women regularly and documenting the increasing challenges in their shared life as they become ever older, revealing an intimate story of care and compassion.

Factory Complex

The season’s closing film, Im Heung-soon’s Factory Complex (2014), presents the stories of many who suffered in the textile and technology industry, bringing the programme full circle to the struggle of workers: these women share similar experiences to those of the protagonist of Under Construction. Formed from actual interviews of women labourers and experimental imagery, Factory Complex was inspired by Im’s own mother who had worked as a seamstress in a sewing factory for 40 years and his younger sister who had worked in apparels and frozen food section in department stores. With its innovative use of visuals, the film was invited to the Venice Art Biennale 2015 and was awarded the Silver Lion, making the director the first Korean artist to win such accolade.

All events are free of charge, with seats booking essential.

Films in the season:

JANG Yun-mi: Under Construction (2018), 29 July, 6.30pm
Birkbeck Cinema, 43 Gordon Square

Daniel KIM: Halmoni (2017), 4 August, 7.00pm
Korean Cultural Centre UK (KCCUK), 1-3 Strand

YANG Yonghi: Soup & Ideology (2021), 11 August, 7.00pm
Korean Cultural Centre UK (KCCUK), 1-3 Strand

PARK Hyuck-jee: With or Without You (2015), 18 August, 7.00pm
Korean Cultural Centre UK (KCCUK), 1-3 Strand

IM Heung-soon: Factory Complex (2014), 25 August, 6.30pm
Birkbeck Cinema, 43 Gordon Square

This season is programmed in collaboration with the Birkbeck, University of London, Film Programming and Curating MA students.

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