The 5th edition of the Korean American Film Festival New York (KAFFNY), screening from March 17-20, offers a very eclectic and wide-ranging program that includes classic Korean cinema (1956’s Madame Freedom, opening night with a live re-score by DJ Spooky), a retrospective of documentary filmmaker Dai Sil Kim-Gibson, two films from/about North Korea (the 1978 NK soccer film Center Forward and the recent documentary The Red Chapel), experimental films, and short film programs.
The Kim-Gibson retrospective includes her 1999 documentary Silence Broken: Korean Comfort Women, which concerns the plight of women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II. The bulk of the documentary consists of filmed testimony by those who survived, including Kim Hak-soon, who in 1991 was the first “comfort woman” to publicly tell her story to the media, giving others who went through this ordeal the courage to step forward. The most powerful and compelling sections of Silence Broken are of these women relating their horror stories of their treatment by the Japanese, as well as the shame and neglect they suffered after the war when they returned to Korea. Kim-Gibson’s film also gives voice to Japanese commentators who refute the women’s testimony, including a pair of academics and a former Japanese soldier. The film very clearly takes the position that their statements are not at all credible. Other Japanese voices in the film counterbalance this, however: one scholar produces clear evidence of the plan to take comfort women from other countries, including China and Taiwan, to serve Japanese soldiers; a Japanese man who served in the war describes his job transporting the women to their shacks; and a young woman is interviewed who believes Japan should make this part of their history part of the education curriculum. The documentary’s least compelling material is the dramatization sequences, which add unnecessary illustration to the already powerful stories told by the women. In contrast, Byun Young-joo’s trilogy of documentaries focused almost entirely on the comfort women’s recollections, without resorting to such well-worn techniques as dramatization and frequent use of archival footage. Still, Silence Broken is an important and necessary film that documents a still unresolved issue, as
to this day has never publicly apologized or offered adequate compensation to those victimized by this shameful episode of history. Japan
Another compelling selection of this year’s festival is Peter Bo Rappmund’s psychohydrography, an hour-long experimental visual essay composed entirely of time-lapse still photography, capturing the flow of Los Angeles’ water supply from the Easter Sierra Nevada mountain source, through the Los Angeles River and the Los Angeles Aqueduct, to the Pacific Ocean. The film’s rich soundtrack, consisting of ambient sound from the area such as whooshing water, wind, and buzzing flies, as well as what sounds like an old LP record stuck in a groove, are an overwhelming and sensuous accompaniment to its unique visuals. The film has a very sculptural feel, and blurs the line between photography and animation, still and moving images. Rappmund was mentored by and studied under such avant-garde cinema icons as Stan Brakhage, James Benning, and Phil Solomon, as well as the brilliant chronicler of L.A. Thom Andersen. Their influence is clearly evident, especially Brakhage and Benning; comparisons can also be made to Godfrey Reggio’s films (e.g. Koayanisqatsi). Rappmund, however, has made a resonant and memorable work that stands fully on its own, and offers beautifully textured sound and image that richly reward repeat viewings.
For more information on these films and other KAFFNY selections, and to purchase tickets, visit the festival website.
PSYCHOHYDROGRAPHY preview 720P from Peter Bo Rappmund on Vimeo.