Film fest explores women’s experiences after 2008 global financial crisis

By Claire Lee

International Women’s Film Festival in Seoul focuses on Chinese documentary filmmakers, love and economics, and veteran Japanese actress Kyoko Kagawa

  • Published : Apr 30, 2014 - 20:26
  • Updated : Apr 30, 2014 - 20:27
Lee Hye-kyung, the director of the International Women’s Film Festival in Seoul, speaks during a press conference on Tuesday. ( IWFFIS)
The annual International Women’s Film Festival in Seoul (IWFFIS) returns this month, paying special attention to women’s experiences after the 2008 global financial crisis worldwide.

Celebrating its 16th edition this year, the upcoming festival will bring 99 films from 30 countries, including documentaries by Chinese women filmmakers, films about women’s experiences in the neo-capitalist economy, and a retrospective of veteran Japanese actress Kyoko Kagawa.

“This year’s theme is ‘The Vision of 99 for Another World,’” said Lee Hye-kyung, the director of the festival during a press conference in Seoul on Tuesday. “We have been focusing on the lives of 99 percent of the world population (as opposed to the privileged 1 percent) in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis. And contemporary cinema reflects how the economy has been affecting women’s lives. There are many different problems and experiences, but they are all shared by the 99 percent of us. And we hope to think about these issues through film and think of ways to have hope.”

Opening film

Bosnian film “For Those Who Can Tell No Tales” will open this year’s festival. The film follows an Australian tourist who visits a seemingly peaceful town on the border of Bosnia and Serbia. She discovers a hidden legacy of wartime atrocities after finding herself unable to sleep for no reason in a local hotel.

The film is directed by Jasmila Zbanic from Bosnia and Herzegovina, who won the Golden Bear prize at Berlinale in 2006 for her feature debut “Grbavica.” The film is about the life of a single mother in today’s Sarajevo in the aftermath of the systemic rapes of Bosniak women by Serbian soldiers during the war.

“For Those Who Can Tell No Tales,” which also deals with war crimes against women, was screened in the Special Presentation section at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. 

Special focus on Chinese documentaries

A total of three documentaries by Chinese filmmakers are being screened during this year’s edition. One of them is director Feng Yan’s “Bingai,” a film about a Chinese farmer named Bingai living in a rural town at the edges of the Yangtze River in Hubei. Bingai is one of the 1.13 million citizens dislocated by the massive Three Gorges Dam project. Defying government pressure, she refuses to leave her home and tries to continue life with her husband and their children.

“The film shows the harsh rural life in China realistically, whereas Chinese films in the past focused on its beauty and nature,” said the festival’s programmer Lee An in a statement.

Meanwhile, filmmaker Ma Li’s “Born in Beijing” depicts the lives of more than 100,000 homeless people in Beijing, who feel they are unjustly treated by the government and seek ways to settle in the nation’s capital. Director Ji Dan’s documentary “When the Bough Breaks” follows the lives of two impoverished teenage girls who live on the outskirts of Beijing and need to decide whether they should continue their studies or just work to support their financially struggling family.

The three directors will be attending the festival in Seoul this year and participate in scholarly forums on contemporary Chinese cinema and documentaries as well as ethics. 

Love and economics

In their section named “Polemics: To Love Hot or To Live Hard,” films about women’s experiences in today’s economy will be presented. One of them is Italian director Mirca Viola’s “Cam Girl,” which is about three girl friends who decide to become “cam girls” ― women who make money by undressing in front of a web camera for online viewers ― after not being paid enough by their former employers after the financial crisis.

Filipino filmmaker Hannah Espia’s film “Transit” shows Filipino workers living in Tel Aviv, who are forced to hide their children after the Israeli government decides to deport children of immigrant workers.

One anticipated film in the festival’s New Currents section is Australian filmmaker Anna Broinowski’s documentary “Aim High in Creation!” which is about her experience in Pyongyang. The director reportedly visited the North Korean capital to learn how to make propaganda films. 
A scene from “Aim High in Creation,” one of the most anticipated films for this year’s International Women’s Film Festival in Seoul. (IWFFIS)

Byun Young-joo’s documentaries on World War II sex slaves

This year’s edition also screens filmmaker Byun Young-joo’s three documentaries from the 1990s, all about Korean women who were taken captive by the Japanese during World War II to serve as military sex slaves. Byun spent a total of seven years with the victims to create the three films ― “The Murmuring” (1995), “Habitual Sadness” (1997) and “My Own Breathing” (1999).

Retrospective: Kyoko Kawaga

A special retrospective of veteran Japanese actress Kyoko Kagawa (born in 1931), who appeared in more than 115 films, has been also organized. A total of eight films starring her will be screened, including “Anzukko” (1958), “The Crucified Lovers” (1954), “Tokyo Rendezvous” (2008) an “Tokyo Story” (1953).

This year’s International Women’s Film Festival in Seoul runs from May 29-June 5. For this year’s full line-up, visit www.wffis.or.kr. English information is available.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)