Filmmaking From the Heart, 15 Years On

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Filmmaking From the Heart, 15 Years On

It's a long, lonely road for those who have dedicated their lives to the things that most people don't even want to talk about. Sticking to your principles doesn't usually combine well with making money. It may even entail poverty. For most, continually making a stand against wrongdoing or injustice is exhausting. Many will give up.

A documentary film director, Kim Dong-won, cares not a jot that his office is housed in a shabby building in the wrong part of town. And he isn't one of those hotshot directors who demonstrate their commitment to fortune over faith with a string of blockbuster romance movies. What has concerned, even obsessed him, is now the subject of a special exhibition of his works at the Ilju Art House.

For the past 15 years, Mr. Kim has devoted himself to those on the unseen periphery of society £­ such as the disabled, the needy and slum dwellers. "Particularly in the 1970s and '80s, the conditions suffered by these people were considered something we shouldn't make an issue of. But I wanted to let people know that there are many others suffering from a lack of basic living needs. Those isolated people, such as slum dwellers, could be described as the by-product of development-oriented policies," said Mr. Kim in a recent interview with the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition.

One of his most noteworthy works is "Sanggye-dong Olympic" (1988). In this film, he focused on the poor residents of Sanggye-dong, forcibly removed from their homes in a bid by the government to sanitize the area in advance of the 1988 Seoul Olympics. He lived with the former Sanggye-dong slum dwellers for two years, and in the film vividly recounts their sufferings.

"Mommy, Daddy, You Can Do It!" (1989) takes as its subject the parents of mentally retarded children. "I felt sorry for those disabled children and their parents, who hide in their homes, afraid of the outside world," Mr. Kim said. Currently, he's working on a film about long-term political prisoners in Korea.

But Mr. Kim refuses to allow that he was somehow destined to be the champion of those without a voice. He said he was just an ordinary man on the street, who paid little attention to the needy. He said his path to real-life documentary-making came about by accident. "I had worked as an assistant director on popular films. One day I took a part-time job filming the slum dwellers. I didn't know that I would devote the rest of my life to it."

It wasn't easy, he said. It was almost impossible to get sufficient financing for his uncomfortable films.

The harsh realities of conscientious filmmaking could have turned him back to far more lucrative commercial films, but he said that was unacceptable to him. "If I made documentary films just for the money, I would have had to give up my faith. Rather, I wanted to be free to fully demonstrate my faith in those less fortunate in society, free from any outside constraint, even if this only left me with hard times."

Mr. Kim argued that people have become too focused on profits to allow the different social classes £­ the haves and the have-nots £­ to live happily together. "I think that the world must provide a place where those that are less fortunate can live happily. They have a right to be happy. But in this dog-eat-dog society, the have-nots and those that don't conform are regarded simply as losers. I'd like to contribute to making a change in the way the people think."

The exhibition of Kim Dong-won's works runs until Tuesday at the Ilju Art House, Anguk-dong (02-2002-7771).

by Chun Su-jin

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