Director: Ko Hee-young
81 mins, 2016
Documenting the famous haenyeo (female divers) the fascinating Breathing Underwater depicts the lives of the divers who reside in Jeju Province just off the southern coast of Korea and respect this ancient tradition which dates back to 434 C.E. The film’s director Ko Hee-young spent a number of years observing the routines of this unique community and the documentary benefits from the closeness between director and subject with the haenyeo’s extraordinary way of life being complemented by the calmness of Ko’s direction. The film is as interested in the mundanity of the everyday as it is with the spectacular actions of the heanyeo’s traditions. The haenyeo reject modern diving technology and water tanks to harvest seafood and shellfish. They search the depths of the ocean which they access by holding their breath and swimming up to 20 meters below the surface. While the structure of the community and the way in which rank is determined is explored, the film demonstrates the declining numbers of the haenyeo and the increasing age of the community where 98% of the divers are now over the age of 50.