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25th Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival

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Transparent Landscape: South Korea

100 years of South Korean documentary.

While South Korean fiction film is at its height and receiving praise around the world, the country’s documentary landscape has to a big extent remained unexplored. We have therefore taken the challenge to map the history of South Korean documentary cinema. The result is a section Transparent Country: South Korea, which presents a unique overview of both documentary films that reflect the country’s social and political development as well as unique experimental works that embody the freedom of artistic expression.

The section was supported by the Korean Film Council.

film database

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A dynamic mosaic with monumental orchestra accompaniment shows the South Korea of the 1970s as one of the strongest economies of the region. Images of progress of the civilization and modern lifestyle interspersed with strong cultural and religious tradition make an appeal to the divided nation to unite.
personal program

2minutes40seconds

Ok-hee Han
South Korea / 1975 / 10 min.
section: Transparent Landscape: South Korea
A Dream of Iron
In the port city of Ulsan, fishermen once worshiped the whale as an exalted deity. Today, the port is occupied by Hyundai's steelworks and shipyards. This captivating essay shows how metal colossi are born in the mechanical bowels of factories. Shafts, beams, and cranes of superhuman size form the graceful curves of the mechanical gods of the industrial age. In his second feature film, based on a video installation, Park recontextualizes industrial production. The levitating iron masses transform into artistic and religious artifacts against a backdrop of Mahler, Tibetan songs, and the sound of whales.   "I compose films rather than edit them - to me, it's like creating a piece of music."   Kelvin Kyung Kun Park
personal program

A Dream of Iron

Kelvin Kyung Kun Park
South Korea / 2010 / 79 min.
section: Transparent Landscape: South Korea
Czech Premiere
An Escalator in World Order
This editorial essay composed of propaganda films and news stories criticises the development of US-Korean relations after the Second World War. Kyung-man Kim subtly emphasises the rhetoric of the celebratory documents and turns it on its head. A constellation of Korean and American statesmen creates a media image of South Korea as a war-torn country that rises from the ashes like the mythical phoenix and, with the help of its saviour the USA, transforms itself into an economic power. But all the celebratory ceremonies, military parades, and rhetorical performances of Reagan, Clinton, and Bush are just puppet theatres for obedient citizens of a country troubled by dictatorship and autocratic regimes.   “The collision and irony between faith and the world, the unbridgeable gap.” 
personal program

An Escalator in World Order

Kyung-man Kim
South Korea / 2012 / 115 min.
section: Transparent Landscape: South Korea
Butterfly
This ironic collage connects aria from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, a concert of American musician Laurie Anderson, and the symbol of butterfly. The conceptual work juxtaposes classic art and contemporary avant-garde, the East and the West, nature and civilization, and unites these contrasting themes in a diverse and poetic whole using visual effects.    “I want to shape the TV screen canvas as precisely as Leonardo, as freely as Picasso, as colorfully as Renoir, as profoundly as Mondrian, as violently as Pollock and as lyrically as Jasper Johns.” J. P. Nam
personal program

Butterfly

Nam June Paik
South Korea / 1986 / 2 min.
section: Transparent Landscape: South Korea
Czech Premiere
Factory Complex
Workers in Asian textile factories, flight attendants, and call center workers represent generations of mothers and daughters who have experienced the onset of neo-liberalism first-hand since the 1970s. Under the control of giants such as Samsung and Daewoo, they come to know the flip side of the dream of prosperity, which is also reflected in the surrealist René Magritte's Kiss of Lovers. The pair have their heads tangled in cloth, much like the heroines of the film, representing global blindness, and raises the question of whether only the exploited Third World workers are blind, or customers of e-shops and branded stores in the west as well.   “At the beginning of my career, I felt like a researcher, activist, social worker, or educator. Now I feel more like a funeral home employee.” Im Heung-soon
personal program

Factory Complex

IM Heung-soon
South Korea / 2014 / 95 min.
section: Transparent Landscape: South Korea
Czech Premiere
Ganymede
A poetic study based on a series of images taken of Jupiter’s moons that captures how a terrestrial world bathes in the light of the largest moon in our solar system. Light rays transform organic structures into dispersed abstract images. When we close our eyes, we see the cosmic dimension of our consciousness in this foggy landscape. "My work is based on traditional Korean painting and my experience with abstract painting." Youjin Moon
personal program

Ganymede

Youjin Moon
South Korea / 2016 / 9 min.
section: Transparent Landscape: South Korea
Czech Premiere
Global Groove
This key work of video art from the pre-Internet era presents the present saturated by sensory stimuli and its global dimension in a visionary way. The breathtaking psychedelic stream flows between avant-garde and the mass media, as well as among cultures. Allen Ginsberg, John Cage or Navajo, Korean and Nigerian artists ride the same wave.   “If we could compile a weekly TV festival made up of music and dance from every county, and distributed it free-of-charge round the world via the proposed common video market, it would have a phenomenal effect on education and entertainment.” Nam June Paik
personal program

Global Groove

Nam June Paik
South Korea / 1973 / 29 min.
section: Transparent Landscape: South Korea
I Am a Truck
The clip, one of twenty news clips that Kim made for the American Information Service shortly after the end of the Korean War, tells the story of a car. The vehicle speaks in a continuous monologue to the audience as it follows the process of its demise and rebirth. The components move from the junkyard to the car factory, where they are transformed into the metal interior of a new vehicle. We are not just following the story of the car, but that of the entire country as it recovers from the war and builds a new economy, led by businesses like Hyundai, a symbol of prosperity and national pride.“How will humanity make enough for three meals a day out of post-war poverty?”Kim Ki-young
personal program

I Am a Truck

Kim Ki-young
South Korea / 1953 / 18 min.
section: Transparent Landscape: South Korea
Czech Premiere
noimage
Archival footage from 1923 of a walk through Busan and Seoul proudly points out land and ship transport, banks and palaces, everyday life in the streets, and festive moments. Only subtle hints - a Japanese-run national bank, or references to a former Korean monarch - reveal that behind the images of prosperity, economic power, and technological progress, a drama of an annexed country is taking place.
personal program

Important Towns in Korea

South Korea / 1923 / 2 min.
section: Transparent Landscape: South Korea
Czech Premiere
Labor News No.1
The working class continues to be a victim of the cold war on both sides of the Korean Peninsula. While in the North it led to the establishment of a totalitarian regime, in the South, factory workers have become the target of anti-Communist propaganda and the modern-day slaves of gigantic government-backed corporations. Recordings of protests, television talk shows and songs about the fight against injustice present the wave of collective defiance that swept across the entire country in 1989. South Korean unions organized mass demonstrations in which the struggle was not for the Left or for the Right, but for democracy and the right to a dignified life.   “How much more we can get is not the whole issue. What is at stake is the problem of whether we could secure the foundation for humane lives, or go back to the lives of slaves.“ Labor News No. 1
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Labor News No.1

Labor News Production
South Korea / 1989 / 74 min.
section: Transparent Landscape: South Korea
noimage
Following the modernization and industrialization of the country and the adoption of the Western model, Japan turned to annexed territory to cover the lack of resources on its own soil. Under the rule of the Japanese Empire, Korea thus became a stockpile of human labor and livestock.
personal program

Livestock Industry of Korea

South Korea / 1924 / 7 min.
section: Transparent Landscape: South Korea
Czech Premiere
Over me
The romance between a woman and a dead man from her dream speaks in hints and a poetic visual shorthand. Windows, walls, doors, and railroad tracks signify the impossibility of blending reality and the subconscious. Only through the medium of film can a bridge be built between the realms of the living and the dead and allow the lovers to meet in a lyrical blend of their images.
personal program

Over me

Chang-jae Lim
South Korea / 1996 / 18 min.
section: Transparent Landscape: South Korea
Planet of Snail
The deafblind poet knows reality only by touch, just like a snail. His slow haptic world of darkness and silence is as far removed from ordinary reality as life on an alien planet. However, this healing film does not represent existence in isolation and solitude as an oppressive existential drama, but as a lifelong therapy of darkness. Young-Chan does not reside on another planet - we are the ones who have distanced ourselves from within in an excess of visual and sound perceptions. A meditation on barriers and freedom cleanses the traces of civilization and opens the door to the elemental world of shapes, surfaces, movement, and the passage of time.   “People with disabilities are usually portrayed stereotypically as people who need our help and compassion. My film is different.” Seungjun Lee
personal program

Planet of Snail

Seung-jun Lee
South Korea, Japan, Finland / 2012 / 87 min.
section: Transparent Landscape: South Korea
Czech Premiere
PRISMA
A cyclically awakening character or a show of both visual and sound errors are how Im deconstructs the pre-camera reality in his experimental film. The object of his interest is not the material world, but the power of the medium itself. The film appears as a living being, who with his mechanical limbs walks between the creator and the viewer. The medium as a divine algorithm decomposes reality and reassembles it. It dissolves the original meanings and floods things, places, and people with new collective beings.   "The traces of hidden time and dream were revived and playback eternally." PRISMA  
personal program

PRISMA

Cheol-min Im
South Korea / 2013 / 61 min.
section: Transparent Landscape: South Korea
Czech Premiere
Re Dis Appearing
Words come and go like water. The flow of spoken French and English on the border of clarity resonates in static shots, filled with simple pictorial symbols. Speech is not the bearer of meaning but a poetic element, a symbol of cyclicality, the bearer of displacement and exile.   „If words are to be uttered, they would be from behind the partition. Unaccountable is distance, time to transport from this present minute. “ Theresa Hak Kyung Cha
personal program

Re Dis Appearing

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha
South Korea / 1977 / 3 min.
section: Transparent Landscape: South Korea
Czech Premiere
robinson or me (From the Far East)
We are all Robinson in our own minds. It looks like a room where behind its walls the human soul wanders and drowns in helplessness. Until he discovers solid ground in the form of daily rituals, in the water spraying from the shower, or in the tea bag at the bottom of the mug. The banal detail, accompanied by the adaptation of Karel Krolow's poems and aliquot songs, is fed by spirituality.   "Cho's single-channel tapes and installations are formalist, almost painterly explorations of subjectivity and the subconscious." Seoungho Cho
personal program

robinson or me (From the Far East)

Seouongh Cho
South Korea / 1996 / 11 min.
section: Transparent Landscape: South Korea
Czech Premiere
Sanggye-Dong Olympic
In preparation for the 1988 Summer Olympics, the Korean government evicted one hundred and sixty families out onto the streets. It demolished their houses in the slums of Seoul's Sanggyedong and had luxury apartments built in its place. Dongwon Kim lived with the evicted families for three years and filmed their fight against the state authorities. The alarming film reveals the averted face of a sporting event abused for ideological purposes. He ushered in a new era of Korean social documentaries, revealing the averted face of South Korea perceived as a land of fabulous wealth, happiness, and economic growth.   "The situation requires us to make films on social issues." Dongwon Kim
personal program

Sanggye-Dong Olympic

Dong-won Kim
South Korea / 1988 / 27 min.
section: Transparent Landscape: South Korea
Czech Premiere
Shadow Flowers
This film has a 500 views limit. Ryun-hee is eager to return to her native North Korea, which she left in 2011 to seek medical treatment. Little did she know that crossing the border with South Korea would make her an enemy of the state and that she would find herself forced to live a life in exile for many years to come. She embarks on an endless struggle with the authorities, who prevent her from returning home to her husband, daughter, and aging parents. Other families that have been torn apart by the border across the Korean peninsula face similar problems as those of our heroine. Seung-jun Lee tells us the story of a Kafkaesque world of bureaucrats and high politics, which for decades has broken family ties and left feelings of emptiness and shadows of memories in people's hearts.   “I want viewers to forget about refugee stereotypes or misconceptions about North Korea. This story is not about which system is better or worse, but about being human.” Seung-jun Lee
personal program

Shadow Flowers

Seung-Jun Yi
South Korea / 2019 / 109 min.
section: Transparent Landscape: South Korea
East European Premiere
Swing Diary
Nan Lee originally intended to make a documentary about Korean jazz when he became fascinated by the possibilities of improvisation and decided to make a film about life instead. A story about money, porn, and animated agony, it connects documentary and fiction and, with exaggeration and subversive energy, takes a look into the everyday life of a bored young man.   “The film shows how we subconsciously improvise on our journey through life and move to the rhythm of those around us.” Nan Lee
personal program

Swing Diary

Nan Lee
South Korea / 1996 / 13 min.
section: Transparent Landscape: South Korea
Czech Premiere
Ten Oxherding Pictures #4: Catching the Ox-Two Chinese Quinces
Zen meditation, inspired by a series of ten Buddhist poems, reflects on the fate of two quinces. In vivid detail and framed by a red and white poetic acronym, these two fruits of the same tree set out on two fascinatingly different journeys. Each quince becomes part of a contemplative still life, both at a different pace and in a different space. They transform into an abstract part of the pictorial composition and, impartially, with the silent snowfall and the murmurs of rain and thunder, presenting the cycle of death and birth and departure and return.   "This film seeks to answer the question of what enlightenment is and how to achieve it." Ji-sang Lee 
personal program

Ten Oxherding Pictures #4: Catching the Ox-Two Chinese Quinces

Lee Ji-sang
South Korea / 2007 / 22 min.
section: Transparent Landscape: South Korea
The Murmuring
This film has a 500 views limit. Each Wednesday noon, a group of women gather in front of the Embassy of Japan in Seoul to stand up for the rights of comfort women. They demand that the Japanese government issues a formal apology and pays damages to the Korean women who were forced to serve as sex slaves by the Japanese army during the WWII. After years of living in seclusion and humiliation, these women decided to share their stories with the director and speak about this previously undisclosed chapter of the history of Korea. The Murmuring is one of the first Korean documentary films widely distributed in cinemas and forms the first part of the director's documentary trilogy about Korean women forced into sexual slavery, with the second part called Habitual Sadness (1997) and the third and final part My Own Breathing (1999).   „When I was gathering my friends to work with, I had a chance to visit House of Sharing – which was located in Hapjeong back then. Halmonis at House of Sharing were hostile to me just because I was a documentary filmmaker. I, however, was rather fascinated by their deep wounds and the defensive wall they had built. That was how the film started, but what I didn’t know at all was that it would turn out to be an eight-year-long documentary trilogy.“
personal program

The Murmuring

Young-joo Byun
South Korea / 1995 / 93 min.
section: Transparent Landscape: South Korea
Czech Premiere
Wet Dream
A voyeuristic evocation of a three-day funeral ritual presents death as a poetic and political affair. The phantasmagoric details of a dead body, hair, and human skin intersect erotically with intimacy, mystery, and fascination. Wet Dream is the haptic externalization of inner death in an oppressive society. “The film was shot without a screenplay, I don't maintain continuity of time and space, characters or story in it. The result is internal images created by combining fantasy and film experimentation.” Kim Yun-tae
personal program

Wet Dream

Yun-tae Kim
South Korea / 1992 / 15 min.
section: Transparent Landscape: South Korea
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