London Korean Film Festival 2019: Yoo Soon-mi
Sun 10 Nov 2019 / 2pm - 4pm
The London Korean Film Festival’s ‘Artist Video’ strand – programmed and presented in partnership with LUX – brings the work of Korean artists working with the moving image to the UK.
In response to Negotiating Borders, an exhibition on the DMZ – the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea – at KCCUK, the Artist Video strand of the London Korean Film Festival offers a focus on South Korean filmmaker Yoo Soon-mi.
Dangerous Supplement (위험한 보충물) 2005 / 14 min / MOV / Original format: DV CAM NTSC
Songs from the North (북녘에서 온 노래) Director: Yoo Soon-mi; Writer: Yoo Soon-mi; Producer: Yoo Soon-mi, Haden Guest; 2014 / 72 min / colour / MOV
Yoo’s avant-garde essay films explore the repressed memories and unresolved conflicts that continue to haunt and define the Korean peninsula. Her acclaimed first-feature film Songs From the North, awarded with a Golden Leopard for Best First Feature at the 2014 Locarno Film Festival, will be presented in London for the first time accompanied by an earlier short film Dangerous Supplement. Dangerous Supplement uses footage from American fighter planes bombing North Korea, attempting to capture a landscape, which keeps drifting away. As Yoo has written, the film is “an incomplete index for the memory, a substitute for a vision that is yet to be born”. That vision was born with Songs from the North, a musical essay film constructed from images shot during three visits to North Korea interwoven with extensive archive material: television entertainment, popular films, propaganda videos and other archival footage.
Music and songs invoke patriotic ideals and sacrifice whilst an interview with the filmmaker’s elderly father punctuates a film that, far from drawing a caricature of North Korea, is an attempt to get to know the psychology and collective imaginary of its people. Although Yoo’s visit was strictly monitored by government officials who determined what she could and could not film, the few encounters that she was allowed are powerful reminders of humanity amidst the archival propaganda. As the filmmaker states at the beginning of the film, all her life she has wanted to go to a place that she was not allowed to visit. Yoo’s longing for North Korea, a “land of evil that is sacred as a mother’s womb”, is akin to her desire for a visual representation of a country erased from the memory of her native South. Yoo argues that whereas North Koreans are haunted by the trauma of separation and yearn for reunification, for South Koreans the trauma is much more repressed. Yoo’s father’s account of the disappearances of his idealistic friends who left the South for the North offers a stark reminder of the distance between the promise of a just society and the reality of the purges.
Songs from the North also highlights the difference between the presumed visuality of communism and the actual images emanating from North Korean television. Just as the songs clearly denote a by-gone era, presenting themselves as the musical equivalent of Soviet social realist paintings, the contemporary television images feel oddly anachronistic, as if not belonging to any particular moment of the 20th and 21st centuries, but to an alternative modernity instead. And yet, in spite of their military undertones, or precisely because of them, the songs also fill the film with a heavy sentimental charge. As Haden Guest has written, “To sincerely consider this country that challenges our most fundamental assumptions about the human condition is, Yoo argues, ultimately to question the meaning of freedom, love and patriotism.”