Women's Lives on and Off Screen

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Women's Lives on and Off Screen

Not long ago, there was a critical debate among filmmakers in Korea that suggested that any film directed by a female should be understood in the context of a feminist film. In the Korean film industry where the participation of women is largely limited to make-up artists, a few lucky script-writers and single young female actors, the position of women is tenuous at best. Perhaps the industry is only a reflection of a society that idealizes male violence and considers subordination as a feminine virtue. The frequent complaints by foreign audiences of Korean films shown at international festivals relate to sex scenes that frequently appear to portray rape rather than romance and are no longer the provenance of a few chauvinistic filmmakers.

The Women's Film Festival in Seoul is significant in the context of the lives of women. It raises compelling questions about what it means to live as a woman in Asia, and in other parts of the world. With a slate of new forums and special sections added to the main program, the festival kicks off its third annual event on April 15 in the Seoul district of Daehak-ro. A total of 70 films, divided into seven sections, will be shown.

The festival opens with a Korean feature film titled "South Women, South Korea" directed by Kim So-young, movie critic and the programmer of last year's Jeonju International Film Festival. Sponsored in part by Boim, one of the first documentary production companies established in Korea, this 80-minute documentary shot with a digital camera depicts the filmmaker's visit to her late grandmother's home in Goseong in Kangwon province. Featuring interviews and shots of women wandering the streets, bus terminals and train stations, the filmmaker questions what it means for women to leave their socially defined positions.

The "New Currents" section features films made within the last two years and being screened for the first time in Korea. The notable features in this section deal with women participating in violent sports.

"Girlfight" by an American filmmaker Karyn Kusama, challenges cultural myths about the female body. Presenting the provocative story of a teenage girl who finds meaning for her life in a boxing ring at a Brooklyn Gym, the film won awards at last year's Sundance Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival's young cinema section. Similarly, Kim Longinotto's "Gaea Girls" depicts the lives of female pro-wrestlers in Japan, whereas "Shadow Boxers" by Katya Bankowsky focuses on female boxing championships.

There will be a retrospective "Special Agnes Varda," devoted to French new wave cinema. Filmmaker Agnes Varda was involved in the left-wing political movement and radical feminism in the 1960s. Her works raise questions about the process of "becoming a woman." A mixture of documentaries and fictional work will be screened, followed by a Q & A session with the filmmaker.

A special presentation of Taiwanese films also will be shown. Titled "Focus on Contemporary Taiwanese Women Filmmakers," the section introduces a series of Taiwanese films that have not yet been shown in Korea. As a country that shares a similar post-World War II socio-political history with Korea, Taiwanese films by women filmmakers promise to bring a fresh perspective to Korean audiences.

Perhaps the highlight of the festival will be the "Korean Film Retrospective" which entails comedies from the '60s - the golden days of Korean cinema. Focusing on films that mimic and twist traditional gender roles through cross-dressing and role-playing games, this section traces the sudden collapse of traditions that came with Korea's modernization.

The "Asian Short Film & Video Competition" contains a series of shorts and animations that use playful approaches to filmmaking. Political sections such as "Polemics - Women Under Fire" dealing with films about war and memory and "Feminist Film and Video Activism Community" have also been further augmented.

Different forums and discussions have been organized with guests from all over the world. One of the most notable guests is Barbara Hammer, the director of "History Lesson." Yu-shan Huang, the director of "Spring Cactus" and Asako Fujioka, the programmer of Yagamata International Documentary Festival will also be available for Q & A sessions and symposiums. The festival offers childcare from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and special screening hours for mothers.

The Women's Film Festival runs from April 15 to 22. For more information, contact 02-540-3954 (English service available). The screenings will take place in Hypertech Nada and Dongsung Hall with most of the forums at Filadance, Daehak-ro.

by Park Soo-mee

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