The Korean Cultural Centre UK welcomes you back once again to Korean Film Nights, our year-round programme of film screenings and talks. Following on from 2021’s theme In Transit, which focused on the documentary in relation to marginalised communities, we continue to investigate the documentary form with our new season Living Memories, curated by MA students from Birkbeck University. Drawing together the untold, frequently overlooked, experiences of daily lives throughout Korea’s history, Living Memories is a programme that brings the intimacies of relationships, trauma, and emotion to the forefront through the recollections of those who experienced extraordinary times.
This selection focuses on one of the driving forces of documentary filmmaking, the urge to document and preserve stories. By making films about these subjects, filmmakers give significance to the narratives they must tell, and share them with the world through a medium that only serves to foster ideas around the building of truth. The memories revealed in this programme are often fragmentary and episodic. Their patient unfolding is often shown through ordinary people going about their lives, as they recount their tales. The contrast between current daily life and their own memories contextualises the life stories and inserts them into Korea’s recent history.
Beginning the journey at Birkbeck Cinema, we will be presenting Under Construction (Jang Yun-mi, 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 from an open exploration to an intimate portrait.
This leads us into the core section of this season, formed by Halmoni (Daniel Kim, 2017), Soup and Ideology (Yang Yonghi, 2021) and With or Without You (Park Hyuck-jee, 2015), which closes in on a personal level of lived experiences. These three films, screened at the Korean Cultural Centre, will focus on the legacies, loves and losses of elder women through the sharing of their memories with the filmmakers.
In an exploration of family ties, their lived trials and joys, the collective and the individual run parallel to each other to create a series focused on how the memories of a few contribute to the stories of many. In both Halmoni and Soup and Ideology, a further level of closeness is added due to the personal ties of the filmmaker to their subject, giving the audience even more of an insight into their lives than they otherwise would have been shown.
Following these films, With or Without You is more observant, showing us the strength of the bond between two women living together who, despite not being biologically related, reinvent the traditional meaning of family. In a similar method to Halmoni and Soup and Ideology, the filmmaker indulges the audience in the daily domestics of these women, which presents relationships, characters, and their lived experiences, giving fresh perspectives on the bonds that have grown out of what has happened in their lives.
It is through the vehicle of memory that this series of films finds its ground, the sharing of experiences which contributes to an oral history of a nation. In bringing them to one season, we hope to piece the fragments together to form a collage image of a national past. The closing film, Factory Complex (Im Heung-soon, 2014), presents the stories of many who suffered in the textile and technology industry, bringing us full circle to the struggle of workers, as these women share similar experiences to those of the protagonist of Under Construction.
Traditional formats of historical writing and accepted historical fact do not always prioritise spoken testimonies, but it is in this respect that these documentary films are able to present stories that other modes cannot. From this series of films emerges the undervalued labours of women and workers, whether physical or emotional, often ignored throughout history. It is through their memories and their day-to-day lives that we can discover and rebuild a collective memory. Their experiences have an impact, their testimonies are Living Memories that we wish to share and preserve.
Robyn Minshall, Amina Ferley Yael, Roberto Oggiano & Paula Maguire