AWFJ EDA Awards @ IDFA 2016 Filmmaker Interview: Areum Parkkang on AREUM

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areum-parkkangIn her first documentary feature, South Korean teacher and filmmaker Areum Parkkang takes a look at her own difficulties in finding a boyfriend. When her numerous blind dates don’t lead anywhere, she asks her students for their advise. They tell her that it is her appearance that is off putting. They advise her to make herself more attractive by slimming down, dressing up in a more feminine way, and wearing makeup. Heeding their advice, Areum starts wearing earrings, nail polish and contact lenses, and she dresses seductively or like a free spirited hippie. However, her experiment in conformity leads her to realize that in succumbing to other people’s conventional notions of women’s beauty, she is denying her own personality and values. Areum uses her own insecurities to expose society’s external pressures on young women, and to make us look at our own attitudes towards beauty and pressures to conform.

Born in Yeongam, South Jeolla Province, southern part of Korea, in 1982, Arem Parkkang majored in film at Cheongju University and received an MFA from the Graduate School of Communication & Arts at Yonsei University. She has taught and made films in middle and high schools. Areum was seven years in the making.

AWFJ: How and why did you encounter and commit to the subject/theme of your film and the main characters in it?

Areum Parkkang: When I was a teenager, my friends used to laugh at me because of my body type (“fatty!”) and my hair style. Because in Korea teenagers usually wear their school uniform, when I turned to twenties, my fashion was becoming another source for being laughed at. People tried to advise and convince me that I made a mistake for taking good care of the way I look. I had not thought that I had ever bothered with their “advice”, but somewhere along the time, I realized I was deeply influenced by their views and words. Naturally I met the main subject of the film Areum and the protagonist of the film, who is myself.

AWFJ: What did you learn about the subject/theme from making the film?

AP: During making this film, I found that the “lookism” had lied deeply inside of myself. In fact, the “advice” from other people was not that important. The biggest discovery was that I was making such “advice” consistently to myself. I think the beginning of feminism is to discover women look their body in the point of view of other men.

AWFJ: What did you learn about filmmaking from making the film?

AP: For making film about myself, it took a quite a long time to contemplate myself in an objective way. Now I think such experiences would help to see other people in works in the future.

AWFJ: What were your biggest challenges?

AP: As I said, the hardest thing was to contemplate myself, “naked” me. But it is also amusing, to see my behavior, gestures, the way I talk to other people, etc.

AWFJ: Do you think that being female gave you a distinct perspective and/or way of handling the filmmaking process?

AP: Just because the director is biologically female, I do not think that a female director is given another way and perspective. However, since it is true that women have many limitations in reality, I think that there is a greater possibility that they can look at society from the standpoint of minorities.

AWFJ: What are your plans for the future?

AP: I left Korea a year ago and now live with my husband, who is a cook, in Poitiers, France. I opened a restaurant a while ago at my own home, “the restaurant of the road”. Current guests are Korean and Asian students who miss Korean food. I will make a documentary about a foreign male meeting other people in France, through food. Also, a documentary about Korean feminist painter and writer NA Hyesok is being planned at the same time.

AWFJ: Who are the Filmmakers whose work has inspired/influenced your own?

AP: I like Chantal Ackerman and Agnes Varda.

AWFJ: What advice do you have for other female Filmmakers who are trying to make their way through a still male-dominated industry?

AP: I do not think I’m in a position to give any advice to other female filmmakers. But I want to share my experience that film production, which was possible only in the male-centric industry thanks to the one-person shooting system enabled by digitalization, was now possible in other ways as well. Also, in my experience in Korea, if a female documentary director makes a private documentary, I felt the gaze of the Korean documentary community, “Because you are a woman, you also deal with private matters again.” There is still a lack of a broader perspective in the Korean documentary community, which allows to publicize private material. It is also true that the production period has increased because of the difficulty of funding (so I made my film as I worked). I do not think the other countries are very different. I’d like to cheer the women filmmakers rather than to make advice.

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