Haeundae-gu, Busan, Republic of Korea,
Director Im Heungsoon Mirrors Gwangju and Buenos Aires
"I want people to look at life patterning itself on nature."
The movie Good Light, Good Air is a mirror reflecting Gwangju and Buenos Aires, the two cities victimized by national violence. It faces problems that require attention from the state and society, such as on-site restoration, excavation of the remains, and trauma of the survivors. Before it became a feature film, the work first met audiences in the form of video and installation art. In particular, the individual exhibition 'Ghost Guide' contains the meaning of summoning people who have become ghosts or are living like ghosts due to genocide to find their original appearance, mourn, and console them.
From his debut film Jeju Prayer, directing 5 films including Factory Complex, Ryeohaeng, Things That Do Us Apart, and Good Light, Good Air, Im Heungsoon, a film director and contemporary major artist, has captured the lives of minorities, including victims of national violence, female workers, migrant workers, and North Korean defectors.
- How did you start this project?
= When Jeju Prayer (A movie about the Jeju 4.3 Uprising) was released in 2013, I had GV in Gwangju. After watching the movie, one of Gwangju citizens said, "I want you to make a Jeju Prayer in the Gwangju version." That's the starting point. Afterward, I met the people he introduced, visited the Gwangju Trauma Center, and participated in programs hosted by the center. Then in late 2013, due to the filming of Factory Complex, I briefly stopped researching and continued to work on other projects. In the meantime, I had an exhibition with Writer Han Kang at Carnegie International. And a curator suggested an exhibition, saying that Writer Han's work and my work would make great harmony. That's how I met Writer Han in person. I was going to visit Argentina at the time for a two-person exhibition co-hosted by the Korean Cultural Center and the Argentine National Museum of Art. When she heard that I was visiting Argentina, Writer Han said she visited Argentina in 2013 and recommended several places, including Plaza de Mayo. Seeing the recommended places, I went to the office of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and interviewed the chairman. Seeing them naturally reminded me of Gwangju May Mother's House. What kind of lives do Gwangju May mothers live? As soon as I came back, I visited Gwangju Many Mother's House and interviewed the director. That's how I got ready for the movie.
- The film deals with the issues that need attention at this point on state violence, such as restoration of the places, excavation of the remains of victims, the trauma of the survivors' families, and confusion over the identity of surviving children.
= The restoration here doesn't only mean restoring buildings but also means restoring the distorted history, memories, and healing. Furthermore, I've been thinking about what 'restoration' means in Korean history and how it has been going on. While thinking about this, I saw some cases of Argentina's restoration. After filming Argentina's restoration and excavation process, I came back to Gwangju and saw how the excavation of the remains had been going on. It was important to show each other's cases while going back and forth like that. Through the method, I could find out the differences and the direction we should go.
- Any reason you chose the black and white screen?
= The film needed to be visually simplified because it contained so many stories and characters. In addition, due to the nature of the uprisings at the time, there had to be differences in the social status of Gwangju and Buenos Aires interviewees, and I didn't think I need to show such differences. Since it's black and white, when people hear the stories, I think the stories can be colored as the viewers imagine them. After the film was released, I realized that I unconsciously chose black and white, thinking of the missing or the dead who became part of the soil. I felt the dark color of the soil and the river, where the missing were buried (by Argentine military forces), looked similar to the black and white concept.
- Nature seems to be the central motif of the film.
= So many animals, plants, and insects also appear in Jeju Prayer, and it's the same this time. While searching for information on the region, I found out that Mt. Mudeung in Gwangju is the largest habitat for toads. Due to reckless urban development and road blockage, the toads' habitat was lost, and they were found dead on the road. Toads are being slaughtered. Naturally, it is relatable to Gwangju.
A toad is also a symbol of the pro-democracy movement, which was created in 1983. It is said that a toad is eaten by a snake on purpose before giving birth. The eaten toad kills the snake with its poison, dying together with the snake. And then, the tadpoles of the toad hatch in it, growing by the nutrition of the snake. This spirit contained in the toad became the symbol. Just like a toad, Gwangju 5.18 became the seed of the Korean democratic movement and later bloomed the Korean democratic movement. There is such symbolism. As many art and literature have said, I wanted to metaphorically and symbolically show people's relationships and history through the insect or animal world.
- At the end of the film, with the caption '#With Myanmar,' the two cities in the movie, Gwangju and Buenos Aires, are leading to the reality of Myanmar.
= National violence has not only occurred in those two countries, but it also happened in Asia, South America, Africa, and Eastern Europe. Beyond the stories of the two cities, what matters is to think about the problems that occur across the globe together. In February this year, the same situation occurred in Myanmar when the editing was nearly completed. Those interested in the Gwangju issue, especially the citizens in Gwangju thought Myanmar is another Gwangju, and they are still doing a lot to unite. I thought about what I could do. I participated in it through the hashtag method because I thought it was significant to melt the issue in the film.
I hope Good Light, Good Air is a movie that nourishes our internal shortcomings and some parts of Korean society that are not growing properly.
- Your film HUG, which connects movie people during the COVID-19 Pandemic era, was presented at the Jeonju International Film Festival.
= Korean Film Council (KOFIC) conducted a public offering project in October last year. It is a public offering project where 300 teams, 3 people per team, are selected to make and screen 8-minute videos. At that time, I participated in the event with CEO Kim Minkyung of Bandal doc. and Producer Myeong Joonhee. We made an interview questionnaire about daily lives and dreams under the COVID-19 situation. We delivered the questionnaires to those who had worked with us and received filming sources to create an eight-minute short Fog, Slip, and Nightmare That was our starting point. We expanded the theme to the Jeonju International Film Festival and Jeonju Cinema Project to talk about the recent situation, local situations, individual lives, and livelihoods of the people working for film and arts not only in Korea but also around the world. After giving the interview questionnaires, we received their videos taken with smartphones and made them into the film in early February and March this year. It seems that a new format has come out after agonizing over how to make a movie because I couldn't film them myself. I thought this format would rather show the current situation better.
- You're working on a variety of media using installation art and films. What does each medium mean to you?
=I think movies are the closest medium to the public. Art galleries show a little more disassembled work or the process before it is completed. The advantage of a movie is time accumulation. A cinema tries to emphasize its merits in the movie, and an art gallery does the same for the artwork.
- What have you been working on lately? We're also curious about your interests these days.
= This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Gwangju Housing Complex Incident. In that regard, we're preparing for an exhibition in Seongnam Art Center in mid-July. Also, we're working on the exhibition showing a new reconstruction of Factory Complex. And there is a DMZ-related exhibition, too. It is an exhibition that talks about peace, unification, and the environment through the DMZ, a border area between the two Koreas, and we plan to turn the former Inter-Korean Transit Office into the exhibition hall.
I feel the importance of the environment more while making many feature films, including Good Light, Good Air. I am very interested in the environment and the places around us. Many problems are happening because of things that are against nature. I want to make people see life again using nature as a mirror, and I'm working on the themes related to those things now.