3 Lives Linked in an Annual RitualJang hee-sun, filmmaker of the recent documentary "Making Sundried Red Peppers," says that showing her first feature film to the public was an experience somewhat similar to going to a fortuneteller. You walk in with a great deal of expectation and a pinch of fear that they will know your most shameful secrets.
"Making Sundried Red Peppers" recently premiered at the Berlin Film Festival and opens in theaters here on Saturday. It is an autobiographical work based on the filmmaker's family. The event in the title takes place on the rooftop of Ms. Jang's house every fall. During this time, the female members of the family － Ms. Jang, her mother and her grandmother－ get together and exchange neighborhood gossip.
Ms. Jang used a digital camera for the spontaneous interviews inserted through the film, and 16 mm film for the rest. In between are brief cuts of the making of the film, showing the general atmosphere of the site, such as the crew exchanging stories about their families during breaks. Though the camera zooms in on people during their private time, it does so unobtrusively.
"I was surprised at how comfortable they seemed with the camera around. It was totally unexpected," says the 28-year-old filmmaker. "I think it was partly because most of the scenes were shot in the house. My grandma was always busy feeding the crew. She would cook while we adjusted the lights in the living room. When we were ready, we would call her, she'd run in and we'd started shooting again."
The most difficult part of the film for Ms. Jang was a scene in which she had to do a face-to-face interview with her mother. "I just felt really uncomfortable being in a dialogue with my mother like that on film. But near the end of a conversation, some of which I edited out, we found some common ground."
Ms. Jang confesses that she harbored resentment toward her mother, Seol Jung-won, for sending her to her grandparents' house until she graduated from high school. Her bitterness stemmed from the fact that she felt neglected. It is at this point that the story really begins. The three women who have shared their whole lives with each other find that they are all a bit frustrated about the roles they play in each other's lives.
The grandmother expresses bitterness toward her daughter-in-law for leaving the housework to her and going hiking with her friends on Sundays. Ms. Jang's mother, on the other hand, recalls the years she spent taking care of her husband's great-grandmother, who was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Mrs. Seol yells at Ms. Jang, telling her to quit hanging around with people in the film industry and get a stable job in a broadcasting company.
Ms. Jang was given the money her mother had saved for her wedding to make the film, on two conditions: She would have to lose 10 kilograms and go on an arranged date after completion of the film. Now her mother and grandmother are the biggest promoters of the film. "They grabbed all the reporters who showed up at the premiere, and told them to write good reviews for this film. I was so embarrassed."
She has received varied commentary about the film from different groups of people. Some critics presented feminist interpretations and many complained about the absence of men.
"It's interesting because in mainstream movies, it's not unusual for women to appear briefly or not at all and nobody complains about it. But when it's the other way around, people immediately react to it," says Ms. Jang, noting that the exclusion of male members of the family was not intentional. The men are just not involved in the making of sundried red peppers.
"I'm not interested in entering feminist discourse from a theoretical standpoint. As a filmmaker, I'm more drawn to aspects of storytelling which weave in personal politics," she says.
. "Making Sundried Red Peppers" has already won awards at the Seoul Women's Film Festival and Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival. Ms. Jang says she was surprised to see how much the it appealed to people outside Korean culture, suggesting it was the humor that opened channels of communication.
"I don't mind if the audience forgets about the film as soon as they walk out of the theatre, as long as they keep the questions I raised in mind." She laughs and adds that the best way to go to see a fortuneteller is to not have any expectations at all.
The film opens in the Cinecube Cinema with tickets at 4,000 won ($3.25). If you bring your mother, it's half price and if you come with your mother and grandmother, it's free.
by Park Soo-mee