The New Current Interview
A captivating and witty portrayal of two retired Korean nurses living their best lives in Berlin. Hi Jieun, thanks you for talking with The New Current, how has your 2023 been treating you so far? So far, 2023 has been great! After spending a few years immersed in filmmaking, I'm now more relaxed and have been working on something new. It's been a great experience and I'm excited to see what the future holds. Congratulations on your New Choice Award at the 48th Seoul Independent Film Festival, did you imagine your doc would be so wonderfully received? I never imagined that the film would be so well-received and honoured with a New Choice Award at the 48th Seoul Independent Film Festival. I'm truly humbled and grateful for the recognition. The two main protagonists of my documentary are so lovely and charming that I thought anyone who watched the movie would fall in love with them. What does it mean to you to have your debut feature documentary Life Unrehearsed in the HEARTS section at the 37th BFI Flare? First of all, I am honoured that everyone was able to feel and see the love and connection of my subjects Soohyun & In-sun that it has been placed in this category and it's the first time the movie will be screened outside of Korea, so I'm very excited. I'm also thrilled that the first screening in Europe will be at the largest LGBTQIA+ film festival in Europe. I'm also curious to see how the audience in the UK will react. It would mean a lot to me if they view the movie the way I intended, or if they saw something else. I hope to meet audiences at more festivals in the future, starting with this one. Will there be any nerves ahead of the screening or are you able to enjoy the ride? I get nervous every time before a screening. It’s my first international screening, but I will try to enjoy these feelings. How essential is it for LGBTQ+ filmmakers to continue to push the boundaries of the stories and themes they want to explore in their films? When I was a teenager, there were very few LGBTQ+ films that I had access to, especially in South Korea, where TV dramas with same-sex kissing scenes would be aired and then banned due to viewer protests. When someone's entire existence is erased, it shakes the foundation on which they stand. There are many different people in the world and as many different stories as there are various people. However, only a few groups/people are represented in the media. And minorities are often stereotyped because they are overrepresented in one way. LGBTQ+ people can be good or bad. LGBTQ+ filmmakers should make more noise. When they don't speak up, they can be erased. As if they don't exist. I think you can tell the story you want to tell, whether it's simple or complex. The more diverse a society is, the stronger it is. What was the first LGBTQ+ film you saw that really left an impact? Mine was Beautiful Thing, still is, a beautiful British film! I'll have to look up the movie Beautiful Thing. I remember first of all the TV series, The L-Word sticks out in my memory because I watched it as a teenager. Going back to before that, I can recall Memento Mori (1999), directed by Tae-Yong Kim and Kyu Dong Min. It's a horror movie that takes place in an all-girls high school, and the scenes left an impact.
"I learn about the world through the media, but there are only a limited number of people who can be represented in the media."
Can you tell me a little bit about how Life Unrehearsed came about, how did you get introduced to Soohyun & In-sun? They're in the first scene of the movie, but it all started with their photo. I first saw photographer Tsukasa Yajima's photos at the Women Who Transcended Boundaries exhibition at the Seoul Museum of History. The exhibition was about nurses who migrated to Germany. Behind them is the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism. I was so curious about their story that it took me about a year to find their contact information, even though they were both in Berlin. When I found the contacts through asking around, I first met In-sun, who introduced me to the Korean Protestant Church of Berlin and the intercultural hospice. After that, I went to an intercultural hospice training, went to the Korean church, and met Soohyun for the first time, and she invited me to their home because she had a lot of beer left over. So I said yes and followed them. And from there a film, or idea was starting to be made. Due to the salient topic and focus of Soohyun & In-sun story did you have any apprehensions about making such a powerful documentary? Filming people is not easy. You can't get too close, but you can't keep your distance either. In addition, Soohyun often told me that we had a generation gap whenever we met for the first six months or so of filming. In this case, I tried to study their life and situational (what society was like when they were growing up) story to eliminate the generation gap. Also, I was very worried about whether it was okay to put the camera on In-sun when she was sick, even though she appears in the middle of the movie. And in the case of Soohyun, she hadn't come out to her family in Korea, so I was even more concerned about filming her from the beginning. Above all, I didn't want them to be hurt when their story came out. I wanted their story to inspire someone in the world with courage and hope, and I wanted them (Soohyun&In-sun) to be empowered at the same time. I think that part was achieved to a certain point. What was it about their story, life and experiences in Germany that interested you so much? As I interviewed them, the more I learned about their stories, the more I was intrigued. I wanted to know what kept them going. How they relate to the world. What was in the back of their minds that made them decide to live in a foreign country for the rest of their lives, to live in a diaspora, to end their lives in a strange land? What kind of feeling made them say, "I'm not Korean, I'm not German," what kind of loneliness did they struggle with, and what kind of hardships did they go through to take care of their hearts? I, as a foreigner living in a foreign country myself, wanted to imagine the world through their experiences as a foreigner living in a foreign country, as an invisible being, as an Asian, and as a stranger. But interestingly, when I ask these types of questions, the protagonists would often answer “that time has passed by somehow”. In addition, In-sun has written her own autobiographical book. If you want to know more, you can read her essay "The Most Important Thing to Me Was Myself”. Her book is published in Korean. What has been the most valuable lesson you have taken away from Soohyun & In-sun and the making of Life Unrehearsed? I gained an understanding of differences. Before I made the movie, I never had the opportunity to socialise and interact with people of a different generation than me. I'm getting older too, but when I was first diagnosed with my disease and told I had to take medication every day, it was hard to accept, but when I look at them, I feel like I'm getting older naturally. Soohyun tells me that she's been using her body for more than 70 years, so it's natural for her body to break down and not function like it used to. When they see their friends, they naturally talk about their illnesses and accept the increase in medication. In-sun says, 'Today is the youngest I've ever been.' That seems to be her attitude toward life. Have you always had a passion for filmmaking? My first exposure to filmmaking was in 2012 through the Second Filmmaking Workshop, a workshop that started with the question of why it's so hard for women to make a second movie after their first. People of all ages, from teens to 50s and 60s, from feature film directors to people who had just made a short film, gathered to take a workshop and make movies together in a co-working format. It was a fun experience. I was offered an assistant director job by a director I met at this workshop. I made my first feature-length documentary, Life Unrehearsed, based on my experience as an assistant director. It would have been difficult to start Life Unrehearsed without passion. And it was the passion that got me through it. But filmmaking is painful every time. Even in 2016, when I was working as an assistant director, I thought I was done with filmmaking, in fact, I thought I was done with filmmaking when I finished my first feature. But now I'm working on another project as a producer, and I'm thinking about my next project as well. I guess I've become a person who enjoys suffering. Filmmaking isn’t done with me yet.
How much has your approach to your films, stories and subjects changed since your debut film? First, writing applications and pitching to find funding to make a movie forced me to learn storytelling and create structure. It's made me focus on what's most important, not just creating a list of interesting subjects. Secondly, editing was a completely different experience, and after almost two years of editing on my own, it felt like a new chapter opened up when I met my editor Saebom Kim and met my mentors Jesper Osmund, Ilran Kim, and Sinae Ha to discuss film editing. I think it's important to try different approaches, and it's also important to be bold enough to give up, and focus on one point. On your website there is a question: How is gender, sexuality and the body seen and expressed today? In looking at this question I wondered how essential a role film plays in being able to answer and understand such an important question? The words I wrote on my website were written when I was in Korean society. The world I encountered through the media was homogeneous as if there were a right answer. I learn about the world through the media, but there are only a limited number of people who can be represented in the media. I think it's important to expand and break the mould, not to fit myself into it. I think queer is a practice, and I want to think about various ways of practising it. What is my role in that? Through watching my films, or reading my website, I want people to question themselves, and challenge our preconceived notions. Do you have any advice or tips you would offer anyone wanting to make their own film? Don't hesitate, just get started. If you don't like your work, you just need to make the next one better. And finally, what message do you hope you audiences will take away from Life Unrehearsed? That this movie is with you. Life goes on anyway. Our lives don't cut off suddenly as if we turn off a computer or close a book, but rather like writing a diary and turning the pages of a book, they go on and on day by day. © 2023 The New Current