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DMZ film festival envisions peace, hope

In recent years, the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Korea has received attention for reasons that go beyond the sphere of geopolitics and regional security. Long-recognized for the unrivaled abundance of its ecological reserves, the DMZ was recently identified by President Lee Myung-bak as a “main pillar of Korea’s ecosystem” at the recent World Conservation Congress. More recently, the area has welcomed visitors as a space for diverse cultural exchange.

On September 21, the fourth annual DMZ Korean International Documentary Film Festival kicked off with an opening ceremony at Dorasan Station that was attended by such dignitaries as festival director and award-winning actor Cho Jae-hyun, organizing committee chair and Governor of Gyeonggi-do (Gyeonggi Province) Kim Moon-soo, and Culture Minister Choe Kwang-shik. Venice film festival victor Kim Ki-duk and his star actors Lee Jeong-jin and Cho Min-soo also attended.

Visitors arrive at Camp Greaves, a former US army compound near the DMZ, for a Kim Jung-man photo exhibit taking place as part of the 4th annual DMZ Korean International Documentary Film Festival.Visitors arrive at Camp Greaves, a former US army compound near the DMZ, for a Kim Jung-man photo exhibit taking place as part of the 4th annual DMZ Korean International Documentary Film Festival (photo courtesy of DMZ Docs 2012).

A mere 56 kilometers from Seoul, Dorasan Station is the northernmost railway station on a line that once extended to Pyongyang in North Korea. Nearby is the southern boundary line of the Civil Control Zone of the DMZ, the no-man’s land that has divided the Korean Peninsula for nearly 60 years as a living testament to the tensions and tragedies of the past half-century.

Director Kim Ki-duk (left), who recently won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, walks the red carpet at opening night of the 4th annual DMZ Korean International Documentary Film Festival. Actors Cho Min-soo (middle) and Lee Jeong-jin (right), who starred in Kim's award-winning film Pieta, also attended.

Director Kim Ki-duk (left), who recently won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, walks the red carpet at opening night of the 4th annual DMZ Korean International Documentary Film Festival. Actors Cho Min-soo (middle) and Lee Jeong-jin (right), who starred in Kim's award-winning film Pieta, also attended (photo courtesy of DMZ Docs 2012).

“The DMZ is, in itself, one of the world’s best living documentaries,” said Governor Kim in his opening address. “The DMZ Documentary Film Festival is in its fourth year, and the deep significance of what we are realizing in this place only grows more apparent.”

“This place, where all of you and I arrived earlier today by crossing the railway bridge over the Imjin River,” continued Kim, “cannot be entered without the permission of the commander of the first infantry division of the Republic of Korea Army. The Civilian Control Zone of the DMZ is such a place. And yet it is here that we, with the inextinguishable dream of unification in our hearts, open this year’s festival.”

Film, a medium for dialogue and change

The night’s festivities continued with various performances, including one by Croatian crossover pianist Maksim Mrvica, and the screening of the opening film for this year’s festival, British director Hugh Hartford’s Ping Pong, which follows ping pong athletes in their 80s who compete at the world championships in Inner Mongolia.

This year’s DMZ film festival differs from those of years past in the wide variety of issues discussed in the selected documentaries. The 13 films in the international competition category look at social issues such as the importance of education, which is explored in the film China Gate, and the changing roles of women, as examined in the lives of the Afghan female boxers-in-training in The Boxing Girls of Kabul. Other films come from Finland, Canada, Norway, Ecuador, and Vietnam.

Other categories of competition and screening include the Korean Competition which spotlights local films, the Global Vision section which features works already receiving praise around the world, and the Asian Perspective section which encourages exchange of cultural viewpoints from across Asia through documentaries. Films from India, Japan, Indonesia, and Malaysia are among this year’s selection.

“In an effort to overcome the preconceptions of audiences who consider documentaries a difficult genre,” said festival director Jo, “we have prepared a feast of films that encompass a broad range of issues and communicate important messages in approachable ways.”

The 4th annual DMZ Korean International Documentary Film Festival features films from around the world, including (clockwise from top left) The Day Going to Market from Korea, China Gate from China, Ping Pong from the UK, and The Chronicle of Oldrich S. from the Czech Republic.The 4th annual DMZ Korean International Documentary Film Festival features films from around the world, including (clockwise from top left) The Day Going to Market from Korea, China Gate from China, Ping Pong from the UK, and The Chronicle of Oldrich S. from the Czech Republic (photo courtesy of DMZ Docs 2012).

Flowers for guns, peace for war

Another highlight of this year’s festival included a parade in Paju that featured a fully operable tank that appeared in the 2004 blockbuster Taegukgi. The tank, which was adorned with a mass of brightly colored flowers and followed by a line of soldiers decked out in the same floral camouflage, was created by leading Korean media artist Lee Yong-baek.

Lee, whose work was showcased at the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011, also designed the festival’s official poster. “Angel Soldier and Flower Tank,” as the parade was named, was designed on the idea that a peace imagined and hoped for can someday become peace realized and lived out.

A tank (above) that was featured in the 2004 film Taegukgi Hwinallimyo was redesigned by leading Korean media artist Lee Yong-baek as part of A tank (above) that was featured in the 2004 film Taegukgi was redesigned by leading Korean media artist Lee Yong-baek as part of "Angel Soldier and Flower Tank," a peace parade that took place as part of the 4th annual DMZ Korean International Documentary Film Festival (photo courtesy of DMZ Docs 2012).

“If the world was filled with flowers, wouldn’t soldiers wear them too?” was the optimistic inquiry that inspired Lee’s designs, which replace the typical icons of war, guns, and soldiers, with flowers and all that they represent of beauty, life, and insistent flourishing.

Life inside the DMZ

Prior to the festival’s opening, a photography exhibit opened within Camp Greaves, a former U.S. Army compound near the DMZ, inviting visitors to take a closer look at daily life in the largely uninhabited area. Thirty cuts by veteran photographer Kim Jung-man comprised the entirety of the exhibit.

Kim, who started his project in August in coordination with the Ministry of National Defense, had focused on the lives of soldiers manning the border area as well as local villagers in Daeseong-dong. Here, a little over 300 residents, all of whom are descendants of the village’s pre-war residents, live in what is the only South Korean settlement inside the DMZ.

A photo exhibit by veteran photographer Kim Jung-man, which opened inside Camp Greaves near the DMZ, features views of life inside the protected area.A photo exhibit by veteran photographer Kim Jung-man, which opened inside Camp Greaves near the DMZ, features views of life inside the protected area (photo courtesy of DMZ Docs 2012).

The exhibit, which opened on September 13 and will continue until the festival’s last day, invites visitors to reconsider the importance of peace and the possibility for such, even in an area as scarred by history as the DMZ. All of his works are for sale, with proceeds to be donated to Daeseong-dong.

This year’s festival will run until September 27 and screen a total of 115 films from 37 countries at Megabox in Paju City as well as the Lotte Cinema Paju Outlet. More information on the schedule and venues can be found at the official website: http://www.dmzdocs.com/eng/main/main.asp.

By Kwon Jungyun
Korea.net Staff Writer

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