“It was like studying abroad for a very short time.”
The film Twenty, from Soongsil University student KIM Min-ju, was selected by the Cinefondation to compete at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The Cinefondation Selection is a competition for short and medium-length films directed by students from film schools from all over the world, and KIM Min-ju had the honor to have her first film be among the 17 titles selected out of 1,952 submissions. She is now back home after attending a slimmed-down version of Cannes that took place in autumn, as the festival organized a special 3-day long program of screenings from October 27-29 that presented four of the officially selected features, the films of the short competition, as well as the films chosen by the Cinefondation. This week we meet with KIM Min-ju to talk about her experience attending this most unusual edition of Cannes, her working process on Twenty, and her future projects.
How did you feel when you learned your film was selected by the Cinefondation?
I did not expect that. Twenty is my first short film, so competing for prizes at film festivals never crossed my mind. Seeing this email from Cannes early in the morning, I was like, “Wait, what?” The first time they contacted me, it sounded too good to be true. And then tears started to well up in my eyes as I shared the good news with my friends, parents, and my teacher.
And being invited to Cannes for the first movie you ever made must have made you all the more happier.
This is a project I spent nights working on, with a pure heart devoid of any hope of getting something out of it. I already had a deep affection for the movie before it was selected for the Cinefondation. I used to say we had our coming-of-age ceremony together. Some of my friends were working so they could not come with us, but the others who were on a break from school went to Cannes with me. Everyone enjoyed it so much.
It was announced that this year’s edition of the festival would not be held, but in a sudden twist they moved forward with three days of special screenings.
The film festival was officially canceled in May. I thought it would be impossible for them to hold a film festival, but fortunately, it seems like they managed to do it before things got worse. In fact, the second confinement began on the day after the end of the festival, so had they waited just a little longer they might have had to cancel the screenings. There was a sense of urgency, but all the screenings did happen.
How was Cannes in Fall?
I was told that Cannes could be hot in May, but the weather last month was just right. Everyone in our party was comfortable wearing shirts. It would have probably been better if it weren’t for COVID-19. Since there was a curfew from 9 pm to 6 am, we would get up at dawn to start our day. We came to that decision on the plane to Cannes, as there was no way to travel around by night in Southern France.
Did you have a schedule to follow?
There were plans for a party or a networking event, but it was constantly being delayed due to the guidelines, until it was canceled altogether. Four feature films that were part of the official selection were shown in the evenings as preview screenings, and the films of the Cinefondation selection and the short competition were screened on the mornings of the 28th and 29th. The awards ceremony took place before the screening of one of the feature films. Before the ceremony, we also had the opportunity to walk the red carpet alongside the other directors invited by the Cinefondation.
There are two screening halls inside the Palais des Festivals, the usual venue for the Cannes Film Festival, which are the Grand Lumiere and the Bunuel. The Bunuel is a 400-seat theater, and this is where the films of Cinefondation and the Short Film Competition are usually presented, but this time they were screened in the Grand Lumiere. It felt special enough to offset the disappointment of the networking event being cancelled. My friends and I spent 3 days living in the Grand Lumiere. My schedule was completely full until 9 pm, so I would watch movies for 3 hours, rest for 3 hours, and then watch movies again for 3 hours… I really enjoyed the time spent there.
Did you have time to interact with filmmakers your age?
According to the original schedule, we should have been able to talk and to get closer while watching movies. But there was no time for that, what with all dinner parties being canceled. It was disappointing, but we did chat at the hotel while drinking champagne provided by the film festival. When watching movies, film directors might seem quite different from each other, but judging by the conversations I had, we all have a lot in common. That was so much fun! I suddenly realized that these films and these guys, they all went through the same difficulties and ups and downs. (laugh)
Did you have time to get feedbacks from the judges on your movie?
I had a lot of discussions with members of the Cinefondation Selection staff, including the director Dimitra KARYA. She told me that the story is powerful. That is why I should hurry to make a feature film. This is amazing since the film is full of emotions that are specific to Koreans. Since it is a story that deals with the lack of maternal affection, I was afraid it might be taken a bit too much from the angle of oriental values. I borrowed the motif of the film from the myth of Oedipus, and it seems that she saw in this a common denominator.
This experience must have been a good motivation for you to continue on this path.
It was like studying abroad for a very short time. It was so great to see all these movies selected for Cinefondation. They were all so different, from the story, the subject matter, and the tone of the film up to the amount of capital invested and the technologies employed. Although I tried with my film to be upfront with the story I wanted to tell, I became aware that these friends have also apparently expressed everything they could within their culture. It was awesome and made me all the more convinced that this is what I should do as well. It gave me courage.
You also received support from KOFIC through its support fund for guests of international film festivals.
There were so many aspects that could have been eligible for support from the film festival guest fund. You can receive aid for the airline tickets, creating the DCP, printing promotional material, and also for the interpreting fees. Since my friends and I made our own posters and the DCP had already been created by my school, we received support for the flight tickets, and thanks to this we were able to travel safely. This was the first time I heard of the existence of such a support fund at KOFIC. Given that I am still a student, I haven’t had many occasions to interact with KOFIC. It was actually someone at KOFIC who called me to see how we were doing. I was so grateful. We were having both regrets and anxiety going there all by ourselves, but the trip went well after receiving this aid.
The movie Twenty follows with the wandering of a 20-year-old college student. How did this project start?
This is a film I made as part of a school workshop when I was a sophomore. I thought I would film it once I gained more experience, since the scenario dealt with emotions I find difficult to deal with, but I eventually submitted this work because the way I saw it, there was no other scenario as convincing as this one.
Were you inspired by any event or incident?
I enjoyed walking down the streets at the break of the day. Even though Seoul’s streets can be really packed at night, on certain occasions it feels infinitely lonely when you melt into the crowd. I think I felt a lot of these feelings of being at a loss and lonely. I gave a lot of thought to how to best articulate these feelings. I carefully considered how Hyeon-wu would end up in these streets, and how he would come to wander the streets aimlessly. I came to consider the question of absence, and I think that it was while thinking of the most basic instinct for humans that this train of thought suddenly led me to the notion of maternal love.
I would like to know more about the meaning of the Korean title, seong-in-shik, which would translate as coming-of-age ritual.
Coming-of-age ritual is literally a ritual you need to do in order to become an adult. Just because you have legally attained your majority does not mean you are an adult. I thought about what it means to become an adult. I think that I only became a real adult when my whole world collapsed, and I came face-to-face with the truth. In English, “coming-of-age ritual”has a strong religious connotation, and since the story has nothing to do with it, I opted for the age of the main character for the English title instead of a literal translation of the Korean title. I chose “Twenty” as it is the age that comes right before.
What kind of movie would you like to make in the future?
I’m always looking for that answer. I’m drawn to people who are bursting with life. I would like to evoke such characters on screen. I think I’m attracted to people who are seen as stupid by others, people who don’t compromise. I want to represent this kind of person on the screen.