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Ko - production in Busan
  • Kelvin Kyung Kun PARK, Director of A DREAM OF IRON
  • by Pierce Conran /  Mar 10, 2014
  • "I think my art is more valuable when it is useless."
    With a pair of awards at the Berlin International Film Festival and PARK Chan-kyong’s shamanism documentary Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits opening in theaters this month, Korean documentaries have been unusually prominent in local headlines. The latest local non-fiction work to garner recognition is Kelvin Kyung Kun PARK’s new film A Dream of Iron, which premiered at the 64th Berlinale last month, where it shared up the NETPAC Award for Best Asian Film with JUNG Yoon-suk’s Non-Fiction Diary.
    Directly following its world premiere in Berlin, A Dream of Iron screened at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York for its recent ‘Documentary Fortnight 2014.’ The screenings were so close together that PARK had to dash off to New York before the end of Berlinale, thereby missing the awards ceremony. Following a master class at the UnionDocs Center for Documentary Art and a screening of his previous work Cheongyecheon Medley: A Dream of Iron (2010), which was invited to Berlinale in 2011, at New York University’s School of Arts, PARK is spending a little extra vacation time in the bustling American metropolis. Nevertheless, he took some time chat to KoBiz during his trip.
    - How was it returning to Berlin?
    The first time I went, I was quite naïve and just happy to be there. This time I was also glad but I wanted to take a trip out into the city instead of just watching films all day. I really like Berlin and took the time to check out art galleries, museums and cafes.
    - Following Cheongyecheon Medley: A Dream of Iron, what prompted you to stick with the theme of iron for your next feature?
    Iron gives me a sense of anxiety. I wasn’t my intention to focus on iron but I found myself very attracted to this material. Partly because of its cold, hard and tough properties but at the same time, I’ve learned through research that the tools made with iron are difficult to maintain as they rust very easily. It’s actually a very weak material. To me that symbolizes how I feel about my father’s generation as well as the identity of Korean men in general. We appear very strong but at the same time we are very weak.
    - How did you get access to POSCO (Pohang Steel Company) and the Hyundai Shipyard?
    At first I tried through POSCO’s PR department but I was rejected time and again. By chance I met one of their top officials, who called up the PR department and facilitated the process of shooting. A similar thing happened with the Hyundai shipyard. I tried, tried and tried but I was always rejected. I was very lucky to meet the CEO by accident.
    - Were they concerned about how they would be portrayed?
    POSCO wasn’t really concerned because they don’t have any labor problems. But the Hyundai people were more sensitive. I didn’t want to hide anything from them so I was explicit in my aims. They were quite anxious but the person I was talking to, who was my age, saw it as part of the company’s history. However the older generation was more nervous about these issues.
    My project isn’t about taking sides. I would never want it to serve as an agenda for somebody. I’m just making art and I think it is more valuable when it is useless. The people on the left, who may have been involved with labor movements in the past, also weren’t very happy. Both parties weren’t pleased so in that way I’m doing something right. (laughs)
    - As I watched your film, the power of your visual tableaux was awe-inspiring and ominous, particularly because of the music you employed. Was this your intention?
    I’m from a music background and I think I compose rather than edit film as I see the process more as a musical composition. I never wanted the music to illustrate the image. I thought it would serve its own role. So there is a kind of discordance between the image and sound. I think this discordance creates a tension that is maintained throughout.
    - Are these factories a relic of an older Korea or does their influence still pervade modern society?
    Industrial infrastructure affects our subconscious and this doesn’t only apply to Korea. We never see this infrastructure but without it our life as we know it wouldn’t exist. It acts as our unconscious. We never think about where the metal from our desk comes from or how our doorknobs get made.
    - A Dream of Iron moves from ancient cave etchings to shipbuilding. Is the progress of our species something to be impressed by or wary of?
    I don’t think our society is much better than it was back in the cave days. There is something fundamental about us that hasn’t changed. We may think that we have more money or gadgets, we may see progress or think we have more information. However, no matter what we gain there is always a complementary action where we lose something.
    - Do the whales in your film represent a sense of awe that we’ve lost over the years?
    Perhaps the overwhelming feeling that the cave dwellers would have experienced when seeing whales may be the same as my feeling when I see these ships and witness their sheer scale. There is a feeling of the sublime. There is a contrast of scale, which makes us realize how small we are.
    - A Dream of Iron began as a series of museum video installations, how did this transfer to the screen?
    It started out as a three-channel installation. Three large projections placed one against the other. They are synched videos that run for 30 minutes, but there is no beginning or end. A viewer can enter the room and leave whenever they please. I find this format more liberating than feature film. I don’t think I’m too comfortable with narrative – you may have noticed my film isn’t really narrative driven.
    - The Korean documentary scene is getting a lot of notice these days. What do you think has changed for documentary filmmakers in the country?
    I was getting sick of issue-based films, but Korean documentary filmmakers are being more self-reflexive these days - I think it’s a good sign. The scene is moving in an exciting direction though I’m not entirely sure where it’s going.
    One Korean documentary I particularly enjoyed was Grandmother’s Flower (2007), which is about the Korea war. I liked it because it had a politically sensitive topic but the director dealt with it in a very delicate and personal way. The film was very grounded. I think it’s one of the best Korean documentaries out there.
    - Do you have any future projects in mind at this stage?
    I’m thinking about making an installation about my experience in the army, which may complete my ‘Iron Trilogy.’ I never set out to make a trilogy but someone mentioned the possibility in Berlin.
    I want to express the feeling of being in the military, particularly in Korea, and also how this affects my relationship with my father because he was from a military background and served in the Vietnam War. I was thinking I may go back to Vietnam but perhaps it’s too risky to go on a trip alone there with my father! I’m hoping it will be a poetic work rather than a reportage.
    - Finally, what are some of your favorite Korean films?
    I love Poetry (2010). LEE Chang-dong is one of the Korean directors I really respect. He improves every single time and never repeats himself.
    By Pierce Conran
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