Jang: Festival fosters children’s creativity

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Jang: Festival fosters children’s creativity

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When Jang Mi-hee speaks, each word is pronounced with passion.
Maybe that stems from confidence; maybe it’s diligence. Whichever, it’s obvious when Ms. Jang talks that the actress and professor of theater and film at Myongji College didn’t take up the post of commissioner of the Goyang International Children’s Film Festival, which started last week, just for the business cards.
The JoongAng Ilbo spoke with Ms. Jang, 49, about the festival.

Q. Your job titles range from [being part of] the Korean Film Council to working for an environmental collective. Why have you added something else?
A. It’s been 17 years since I started as a part-time lecturer, getting paid 8,000 won (currently, about $8.30) an hour. I set up a department and became a director along the way. The rest I did out of a sense of responsibility, because I practically grew up in the film industry.
As regards the children’s film festival, I was offered the post when Jeong Ji-young, the film director who was commissioner of the first children’s festival last year, had to resign to direct his next film. At first, I turned it down, because I want to concentrate when I start a new project. [When I eventually took it,] I suffered from migraines. The title is commissioner, but I’m really just part of the festival staff, doing everything for everybody. I hope the festival settles down within the next four years, when my contract ends.

Isn’t the idea of a children’s festival something new to local audiences?
Some of the better-known children’s festivals include an international children’s film festival in Giffoni, Italy, and the Cairo International Children’s Film Festival. Europe has several children’s festivals. Korea is a leading nation for media and information technology, but when it comes to media education it’s a step behind European countries.
Moreover, given the current distribution system in Korean cinema, even adult audiences are left with little choice but to see films selected by local distributors. A festival offers a rare opportunity to see a range of films. To encourage children’s participation, we opened an audio-media camp for two nights. When the festival ends, we are also planning to screen some of the most controversial pieces at theaters in Gyeonggi Province.

I understand the festival has a special program for disabled children.
As it’s a festival funded by the public, we felt we needed to consider children who have been excluded from mainstream society and not welcomed in theaters. We set up a “Five Senses Theater” for that reason. We selected works centered on images for children who have hearing disabilities and centered on sound for those who are visually impaired.
The preparation was a difficult process. But we are happy that the tickets have sold out before the opening. We really wanted to set up a theater where children with severe physical disabilities can watch films as they lie on the floor so that they don’t feel that their disability is really a disability.

When did you start to develop an interest in children’s education?
Acting basically comes down to the idea of taking an interest in other people’s minds. Originally I had an immense interest in psychology. Then, when I went to the States to study, I majored in education. I have been creative since I was a teenager. As I began to teach at university, I came to think that there is an interruption in children’s creativity after preschool age. In that sense, the festival helps develop creative minds for the future of artistic minds. My colleagues at the festival office call me an idealist. I propose so many different projects. Yet education is really about turning idealism into reality.

You’re single and have no children. It comes as a surprise that you take so much interest in children’s education.
There are a lot of religious figures without children who act as social educators. The idea of “our children” doesn’t mean that you gave birth to them and raised them. I don’t look back in pursuing my sense of idealism, because I don’t have practical experience as a parent. For example, people worry about facilities being vandalized or kids learning wrong things in the theater. But I think things will be all right as long as the children have a good time. Almost every playground in the city is a convention of adults. I want to welcome kids who can express and veto the things they do not want as our favorite guests. It’s against children’s creativity if they are satisfied by entertainment simply offered by adults.

What was it like to meet all those children at the Media Camp?
Oh dear. I showed one poster to a kid and he said, “It’s disorderly, kids will like it.”
My favorite book was “The Little Prince.” It’s all about how children could find an elephant in a boa constrictor. The festival is like their stepping stone. We set up a jury and a committee of children. In the future, we will have a child commissioner. If children had voting power, we wouldn’t have left their rights as they are right now.

Couldn’t you have ruined your reputation in the process of getting sponsors?
I debuted when I was young. I never asked my parents to pay for my tuition. So far, all I’ve had to learn was to refuse politely. But this was all about asking people for good endeavors. A market targeted at children doesn’t have an immediate effect. There have been occasions when I talked on and on, and couldn’t ask for sponsorship. But we have hope that there are people who will come forward to help out. It’s a shameful thing, but I am not ashamed.

It’s been 30 years since you debuted in 1976 with “Tale of Chunhyang” by Park Tae-won. Have you given up your ambition as an actress?
Not at all. My job is as an actor. I am always open to make more films as long as it’s a good role that won’t disappoint the audience. I hope they offer me a role that could instantly diminish the weight of the image I have, such as a neutral character in a science fiction film. I get tired of wearing the same old clothes. The role doesn’t need to be big. In “Pola X,” Catherine Deneuve stars in just two scenes.

You’ve shot 49 films. Which is your favorite?
If you ask a mother with six children to choose only one, she will insist that she won’t choose any. I shot a lot of great films compared to other actors of my age. There are five or six pieces I have in mind, but I am afraid to reveal them publicly.


by Lee Ho-nam
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