ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

Adoptees piece together Korean identities that bind them to a homeland they never knew: Deann Borshay Liem’s “Geographies of Kinship” has its world premiere Sunday at CAAMFest 2019

Emmy-winning Bay Area filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem (L) and subject Estelle Cooke-Sampson (R), a retired general and state surgeon for the District of Columbia National Guard, at Cooke-Sampson’s home in the Woodley Park neighborhood of Washington, D.C..  Liem’s new documentary, “Geographies of Kinship,” (2019) has its world premiere at CAAMFest 2019 and is the festival’s closing night film.  Cooke-Sampson was adopted from a Korean orphanage at age 6 and raised in the U.S.  She is one of over 200,000 South Korean children adopted from Korea in the aftermath of the Korean War (1950-53) and part of a much smaller pool of mixed-race children whose parentage was a source of stigma in Korea.  After years of searching, Cooke-Sampson found a picture of herself as a child in a Korean orphanage, but she still knows little about her birth parents except that her birth father was most likely an African-American soldier.  Liem, Cooke-Sampson, and subject adoptee-activist Kim Stoker will be in attendance.  Image: Allison Shelley, courtesy of CAAMFest

Bay Area filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem’s new documentary Geographies of Kinship aptly has its world premiere this Sunday (May 19) at CAAMFest 2019, the annual festival that showcases Asian American filmmakers and artists and Asian stories from all over the globe.  Borshay Liem is an ARThound favorite.  I’ve written about her award-winning adoption documentaries “In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee” (2010) and First Person Plural (2000), both of which explored her own adoption story and the reconciling of her Korean and American identities.  She has a remarkable gift for weaving together personal stories to create a living tapestry of collective history and, through her films, she has brought crucial awareness of the tensions within many Korean adoptees over their experiences.

Geographies of Kinship explores yet another facet of Korean adoption.   Borshay Liem tracks four adult adoptees who were raised in foreign families as they return to South Korea to reclaim their personal histories and make sense of the complex trajectories of their lives.  The stories are all immensely captivating, revealing the lifelong emotional struggles that many adoptees (Korean or not) face around identity and the struggles that are unique to trans-racial adoptees.  She employs riveting images—black and white newsreel clips, U.S. military footage, archival photos, propaganda posters—to frame the complex political, social and historical forces that set the post-war Korean adoption machine in motion and its messy aftermath.  Stay tuned to ARThound: I interviewed Liem last week and will be posting the interview shortly.

Details:  Geographies of Kinship (80 min) screens twice at CAAMFest 2019— Sunday, May 19, 2019, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m., Roxie Theater,  3117 16th Street, San Francisco. Expected guests:  Deann Borshay Liem (Director), Estelle Cooke-Sampson (Subject) and Kim Stoker (Subject). Purchase $20 tickets direct from CAAMFest here.

 

Advertisements

May 17, 2019 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CAAMFest 2013, expanding beyond film to music, food and a celebration of Asian and Asian American culture

CAAMFest continues it 11 day run through this Sunday, March 24, 2013.  This year, the fesitval has expanded its emphasis from mainly film to an 11 day celebration of film, music, food and digital media from the world’s most innovative Asian and Asian American artists.  Accompanying Monday evening’s world premiere of “Memory of Forgotten War,” by award-winning Berkeley filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem and Boston College professor emeritus, Ramsay Liem, was a captivating vocal performance by Amie Kim and the Korean drumming group, Jamaesori (Pronunciation: “JAH-mae-soh-rlee”).  Jamaesori is a Bay Area collective of women of Korean descent who use traditional Korean drumming to support social justice movements.  Their Pilbong style of Pungmul drumming is a centuries old participatory folk art tradition and was a rare treat.

Details: CAAMfest 2013 runs March 14-24, 2013 at 8 screening venues in San Francisco and Berkeley. Regular screenings are $12 and special screenings and programs are more. Festival 6-pack passes are also available for $60. Click here to see full schedule and to purchase tickets online.

March 21, 2013 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CAAMFest 2013 review: “Memory of Forgotten War,” which has its world premiere Monday, traces the enduring impact of the Korean War on Koreans and Korean-Americans

Deann Borshay Liem and Ramsay Liem’s “Memory of Forgotten War” (2013), which has its world premiere Monday at CAAMFest 2013, is the first documentary to tell of the experiences of Korean civilians who survived the Korean War and later immigrated to the U.S. Photo: courtesy Mu Films

Deann Borshay Liem and Ramsay Liem’s “Memory of Forgotten War” (2013), which has its world premiere Monday at CAAMFest 2013, is the first documentary to tell of the experiences of Korean civilians who survived the Korean War and later immigrated to the U.S. Photo: courtesy Mu Films

The Korean War (1950-1953) reeked devastation, pitting the United States, South Korea, and 16 other countries against North Korea and China. A mere three years of fighting left 3 million civilians dead, a decimated Korean peninsula, and over a half century of family separation for 10 million Koreans, including Korean Americans.  Unknown or now forgotten by most Americans, the impact of this war is far from forgotten for Koreans. A new documentary by award-winning Berkeley filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem and Boston College professor emeritus, Ramsay Liem, paints a meditative and highly personal portrait of the Korean War through the stories of four, now edlerly, Korean civilians who were there–Suntae Chun, Hee Bok Kim, Minyong Lee, and Kee Park.

 “Memory of Forgotten War” has its world premiere Monday evening, March 18, at 6:30 p.m., at San Francisco’s Kabuki Cinemas as part of CAAMFest 2013 and is the first documentary to tell of the experiences of Korean survivors who later immigrated to the U.S.  Immediately following the film, the filmmakers will have a conversation with audience about issues stemming from the now 60 year-old Korean War, for which no formal peace accord was ever struck.   The Korean drumming group, Jamaesori (Pronunciation: “JAH-mae-soh-rlee”), will also perform after the screening. Jamaesori is a Bay Area collective of women of Korean descent who use traditional Korean drumming to support social justice movements.  Their Pilbong style of Pungmul drumming is a centuries old participatory folk art tradition and a rare treat.

Deann Borshay Liem, who directed the award-winning adoption documentaries “In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee” (2010), and First Person Plural (2000), both of which appeared on PBS’ acclaimed POV (Point of View) television program, has a remarkable gift for weaving together personal stories to create a living tapestry of collective history.  A CAAMFest favorite, all of her recent films have screened there and sold-out, and she often stays to chat with enthusiastic audience members long after the Q&A officially closes, connecting with them over shared issues.  Ten years ago, she served as CAAM’s Executive Director, where she supervised the development, distribution and broadcast of new films for public television and worked with Congress to support minority representation in public media.   Her collaboration with her brother-in-law, Ramsay Liem, who organized the 2005 traveling exhibition, “Still Present Pasts: Korean Americans and the Forgotten War,” builds on the oral histories of Korean American survivors he collected over a three-year period for that project which included oral history excerpts, original artwork, interactive installations, video art and historical photographs from the Korean War.  When Borshay Liem and Professor Liem decided to make a documentary to reach audiences that the exhibition could not, they selected Chun, Kim, Lee, and Park  out of the more than dozen Korean American voices from the exhibition.   Chun, Lee, and Park had initially participated in Still Present Pasts…, while Kim, 91, lovingly known as “Grandma Kim,” and a forceful community activist, who appeared on the April 2003 cover of KoreAm for her work with the Bus Riders Union in Los Angeles, attended Still Present Pasts…  in Los Angeles and was grandmothered into the project.

With the number of living eyewitnesses to the War dwindling, the value of personal testimony has been growing.  The experiences shared by the film participants, all of whom are quite elderly but still very articulate, embrace the full circle of the war and they speak of harrowing events, some for the first time publicly, as if they happened yesterday.  Their voices, sometimes broken by tears, laughter or ponderous silence, tell of decisions they made impulsively, instinctively which saved their own lives and each story is a study in courage, self-preservation, grace and incalculable loss. Most touching are the precious mementos they managed to keep with them, crinkled family photos, which document the days that time literally stopped for them.  Suntae Chun lived in Kaesong, right near the 38th parallel border, and tells how 27 members of his swimming team and the entire school went to the Ongmyon Reservoir for a picnic and to swim.   He holds up a now 60 year-old photo showing the team of teenagers in their swim trunks. “Next morning,” he calmly says, “big war broke out.”  

Kee Park, who came from a wealthy land-owning family, remembers the growing bitterness directed at her father and the land’s repatriation and later going with her mother to various prison camps and searching through corpses for her missing father.  She later shares how her mother essentially brokered their family’s freedom to the South by bribing border guards with silver spoons and chili powder.

Minyong Lee tells how his brother ideologically identified with the communism of the North and left Seoul, moving North, and never returned.  Later, his other siblings followed.  With the closure of the border, those siblings were lost to Lee who felt a part of him “was just gone.”  Lee then later recreated his life and lived a lie.  He became the only son, omitting that he had siblings on all official documents and never mentioning his lost family members in North Korea  to friends.  While his university exam scores were very high, he knew that he would never fulfill his dream of becoming a diplomat because he, like others who had family in the North, was a liability to his country.

Hee Bok Kim, born in  Pyongyang, recalls vividly the day they were told to evacuate.  She would not leave her basement because her children had the measles.  Later, her odyssey darkened as she and her family were forced to live out of a desk in an abandoned office building.     

“Memory of Forgotten War” (2013), which has its world premiere Monday at CAAMFest 2013, is the first documentary to tell of the experiences of Korean civilians who survived the Korean War and later immigrated to the U.S. Photo: courtesy Mu Films

“Memory of Forgotten War” (2013), which has its world premiere Monday at CAAMFest 2013, is the first documentary to tell of the experiences of Korean civilians who survived the Korean War and later immigrated to the U.S. Here, Minyong Lee points to photo of his brother who moved to North Korea and never came back. Photo: courtesy Mu Films

Just 37 minutes in length, “Memory of Forgotten War,” astutely takes these emotional eyewitness accounts and blends them with thoughtful analysis and interpretation of events by Korean War historians Bruce Cumings and Ji-Yeon Yuh that situate these stories in a broader historical context.  The Liems use riveting black and white newsreels, U.S. military footage, archival photographs, propaganda posters, and newspaper articles, to frame the complex political, social and historical forces that set this war in motion and its messy, devastating aftermath.   Most aspects of the war are covered—its outbreak and the day-to-day struggle for survival through relentless U.S. bombing campaigns; the loss of family members at the hands of combatants on both sides; finding shelter in cardboard hovels; the arbitrary separation of families across the 38th parallel; the aftermath of a devastated and ideology-driven Korean peninsula with Kim Il Sung a puppet of Stalin in the North and the American-supported and educated Syngman Rhee as South Korea’s first President; immigration to the U.S. and life as war survivors in the U.S.  

The film culminates as each survivor reunites with relatives in North Korea, conveying beyond words the meaning of four decades of family loss.  With so much time, many relatives who lived in bleak and deprived circumstances in the North, have died and it is the next generation that these survivors meet.  As Ms. Liem knows well from her own adoption journey, which took her to Korea in search of her birthmother, there is no substitute for the passage of lost time.  The gift of a film like this is that serves as a powerful reminder that this war did happen and its tangled mess can be measured in very palpable terms and there are precious stories waiting to be shared among various generations of Korean and Korean-Americans.   Stay-tuned to ARThound for an interview with the Liems about what into making this exceptional documentary.

Details: CAAMfest 2013 runs March 14-24, 2013 at 8 screening venues in San Francisco and Berkeley.  Regular screenings are $12 and special screenings and programs are more.  Festival 6-pack passes are also available for $60.   Click here to see full schedule and to purchase tickets online.  Advance ticket purchase is recommended as films frequently sell out.

CAAMFest 2013’s Focus on Korea:

Utilizing Memory of Forgotten War as a launching point, “Beyond Boundaries” is a special festival program exploring the societal repercussions and cinematic incarnations of the Korean War.  In addition to  Memory of Forgotten War, CAAMFest 2013 presents 3 films:

Muel O's "Jiseul" (2013) tells the story of 120 Korean villagers who hid in a cave for 60 days from soldiers with shoot-to-kill orders.  Photo: courtesy CAAMFest

Muel O’s “Jiseul” (2013) tells the story of 120 Korean villagers who hid in a cave for 60 days from soldiers with shoot-to-kill orders. Photo: courtesy CAAMFest

Jiseul: Set during the 1948 Jeju Massacre, Jiseul tells the fictional story of some 120 villagers who hid in a cave for sixty days from soldiers who were under shoot-to-kill orders. They suffer from severe cold and hunger but retain their sanity by making jokes and holding on to the hope that their wait is almost over. Eventually their endurance wanes, and fear begins to test the group’s mettle.

The absurdity-of-war theme has been explored in many films, but rarely in such exquisite detail as in this offering from writer/director Muel O.  Striking black-and-white cinematography captures the texture of the region as well as the humanity of its inhabitants. The film doesn’t condemn anyone but rather focuses on the heart of the story—real people living in fear. Powerful and tender, Jiseul is at certain times hard to watch because of the content and at others extremely engaging because of the authentic human emotion. O has crafted a potent and poetic requiem for a people and a place close to his heart. (capsule review—Sundance Film Festival) (Screens March, 19, 2013, 8:30 p.m. at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas.)

Having escaped North Korea, after five years of living incognito, Kim Young-soon attempts to smuggle her dying sister of out North Korea in the documentary “Seeking Haven.”   Photo: courtesy CAAMFest

Having escaped North Korea, after five years of living incognito, Kim Young-soon attempts to smuggle her dying sister of out North Korea in the documentary “Seeking Haven.” Photo: courtesy CAAMFest

Seeking Haven:  “If I hadn’t left home, I might’ve been hungry, but at least I could’ve been with my family.” -Young-soon Kim

Over 20,000 North Koreans have crossed the border to China in search of freedom. Most of them live in hiding, in fear of being deported back to North Korea and politically persecuted. Director Hein S. Seok, a recipient of one of only five film-production grants given by CAAM’s 2010 Media Fund Program, reveals their often overlooked stories in this intimate, daring tale of struggle, heartbreak and survival.

 In 2002, Kim Young-soon, desperate for food, escaped North Korea to China. After five years of living in an underground haven, Young-soon embarked on a dangerous eight-day trek across three borders in an effort to reach South Korea. Seeking Haven documents her journey years later, in the present day, when she returns to China in an attempt to smuggle her sister out of the country she once called home. (capsule review—Lin Kung, CAAMFest) (Screens March, 18, 2013, 8:50 p.m. at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas.)

Over 20,000 North Koreans have crossed the border to China in search of freedom. Most of them live in hiding, in fear of being deported back to North Korea and politically persecuted. Director Hein S. Seok, a recipient of one of only five film-production grants given by CAAM’s 2010 Media Fund Program, reveals their often overlooked stories in this intimate, daring tale of struggle, heartbreak and survival.

In 2002, Kim Young-soon, desperate for food, escaped North Korea to China. After five years of living in an underground haven, Young-soon embarked on a dangerous eight-day trek across three borders in an effort to reach South Korea. Seeking Haven documents her journey years later, in the present day, when she returns to China in an attempt to smuggle her sister out of the country she once called home. (capsule review—Lin Kung, CAAMFest) (Screens March, 18, 2013, 8:50 p.m. at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas.)

Six years in the making, “ComradeKim Goes Flying” is the first fiction feature in over 30 years to be filmed inside North Korea and co-produced by Western Filmmakers. Photo: courtesy CAAMFest

Six years in the making, “ComradeKim Goes Flying” is the first fiction feature in over 30 years to be filmed inside North Korea and co-produced by Western Filmmakers. Photo: courtesy CAAMFest

Comrade Kim Goes Flying:  As a young girl growing up in the North Korean countryside, Kim Yong Mi dreamt of sprouting wings and soaring through the skies like the doves that flew above. Years later, the now-adult Comrade Kim spends her days cheerfully laboring as a coal miner and living with her father and grandmother in their idyllic industrial village. But when an opportunity arises to go to Pyongyang, Comrade Kim eagerly sets off for the capital city. There, a chance meeting with members of the Pyongyang Circus—including the cavalier and handsome Pak Jang Phil (Pak Chung Guk)—ignites Kim’s desire to pursue her childhood love of acrobatics. Armed with plenty of pluck, charm, and working-class resilience, Comrade Kim launches a surprising journey toward making her childhood dream come true.

An international collaboration six years in the making, Comrade Kim Goes Flying is the first fiction feature in over thirty years to be filmed inside North Korea and co-produced by Western filmmakers.  Its cast brings together non-actors (the leads are real-life professional circus acrobats) with several of the most prominent names in North Korean cinema. Shot in lush, vibrant colors, and with an emphasis on self-destiny that departs from the usual communal themes of North Korean film, this romantic comedy proves as intriguing as it is memorable. (capsule review—CAAMFest) (Screens March, 23, 2013, 8:45 p.m. at Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley and March 24, 2013, at 4 p.m. at Great Star Theatre.)

March 17, 2013 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s film festival time again– SFIAAFF 28 Opens on Thursday March 11, 2010

 

It’s film festival season again and this year’s 28th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival opens its 10 day run on Thursday March 11, 2010, with a gala premiere at the Asian Art Museum of  David Kaplan’s food-centric romantic comedy “Today’s Special,” starring “The Daily Show’s” Aasif Mandvi and celebrity chef Madhur Jaffrey.  This year’s festival offers a fantastic program, showcasing 109 of the very best new Asian and Asian American films and videos from around the globe, with 4 films mkaing their global premieres.  Thirteen films have special connections to our Bay Area.  I always attend SFIAFF because the films are wonderfully diverse with fantastic storylines and I love their “out of the vaults” selections of old classics like the 1960 South Korean black and white cult thriller, “The Housemaid” (“Hanyeo”) whose director Kim Ki-Young is South Korea’s Luis Buñuel.  This film was discovered in the West in 2003– 40 years after its debut in Korea and considered one of the top three Korean films ever made.  The story revolves around a music teacher and his live in help–rat poison, blackmail, abortion, suicide and murder—all contribute to a farfetched but engrossing story.    The Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), in San Francisco, is actively involved in producing a lot of these films, so the screenings have a warm familial quality to them.  This year, there is a strong emphasis on Filipino and Filipino American media-making through retrospectives, exciting new films and a CAAM-produced mobile game. The festival takes place in San Francisco (Castro Theatre, Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Landmark’s Clay Theater, VIZ Cinema), Berkeley (Pacific Film Archive) and San Jose (Camera 12 Cinemas).  Most of these films sell out early, so buy your tickets online in advance, or you can try on the day of the event at the screening venue.  Here are ARThound’s top picks:

Catch a Lino Broca flick—This year’s SFIAAFF featured director is Filipino Lino Brocka (1939-1991) and if you aren’t familiar with his work, you need to be.  The festival offers a unique chance to see four of his rarest masterpieces, beloved classics that delve into the heart of being Filipino and melodramatically capture themes of marginalization, family life and honor.  His 1985 political commentary “Bayan Ko” (screens Thursday, March 18 at PFA) had to be smuggled into France to be shown at Cannes which led to his citizenship being revoked by an angry Marcos regime. But even Marcos could not stop him, and he and a few others made the 1970s and early 1980s a golden age for Tagalog films in a country whose people are still among the most avid filmgoers in the world.  “Insiang” (screens Saturday, March 13 at Kabuki) may be Broca’s greatest film ever– depicting motherhood turned on its head–offering a mother so selfish and treacherous that we can hardly believe the impact of her poor judgement and cruelty as it plays out on her daughter, Insiang, in the slums of Tondo.  

“In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee(world premiere)  Berkeley director Deann Borshay Liem journeys back to Korea to explore her true identity  after living with the knowledge that the name on her adoption papers “Cha Jung Hee,” given to her at age 8, is not her true identity at all.  Liem was adopted at age 8 from the The Sun Duck orphanage in South Korea in the 1960’s and sent to America as “Cha Jung Hee” for her eager American adoptive family–Borshays.  Liem grew up as “Deann” in this very loving family and lived her life quite successfully.  She ultimately became the executive director of the National Asian American Telecommunications Association.  She essentially forgot who she was before she came to America.  Through dreams and events that jarred long-suppressed childhood memories, the urge to know her story became an obsession.  She began to believe that she was both victim and complicit in a complex hoax that altered the course of her life and the life of the real Cha Jung Hee, whose place she had taken in America.   The film captures her attempts to heal as she pieces together her identity with what facts she can find and people she meets along the way.  Masterful editing, blending scenes from the Korean war, with stills of the orphanage, with Liem’s home movies from the 1960’s, with Liem’s experiences in Korea  add to the dreamlike quality of this film.   This is a sequel to her Emmy award winning “First Person Plural” from 1999.   

“Tehran without Permission” is Sepideh Farsi’s intimate portrayal of contemporary life in this mysterious Persian capital city that was thrust to our attention last year with its notorious election scandal.  The film was shot entirely and discretely with a Nokia cell phone and captures the pulse of what’s happening in Tehran’s streets as well as within private residences—the only havens where people can literally let their hair down.  What’s amazing about this film is its testament to the human spirit—these courageous, stubborn and hopeful people have adapted to the bizarre restrictions imposed on them with a kind of national schizophrenia that allows them to lead one life on the streets and another behind closed doors.  (In Farsi with English subtitles.) 

“Agrarian Utopia” is Thai director Uruphong Raksasad’s cinematically stunning acccount of the beauty and hardships of daily life in a traditional Thai farming community against the backdrop of globalization.  The film captures two tenant farmers and their families through a harrowing but typical rice crop season by focusing on their daily lives from dawn till dusk.  The pace is slow and unhurried and draws the viewer into the sublime experience of living in nature and being subject to its whims–floods, electrical storms, thick morning mists and spectacular sunsets.   Seductive were it not for the need to survive and the desire to offer a better life to your children.  They face crippling debts,  uncertain market prices, uncoopertive water buffalos, the forces of nature and a daily struggle for food.   Facing pressure from their wives, they refuse to abandon what they have and know for uncertain  factory jobs in an alienating urban environment.  They hold out against increasingly unsurmountable odds, hoping for a turn of events but distrustful of the electioneering politicians in distant Bangkok who are crying for reform and a return to farm subsidies with reasonable repayment rates.  We watch them trap and eat rats, snakes, dogs, worms, and honey-whatever they can find and–they remain genuinely thankful for daily survivial.   One neighboring farmer, divorced, and with no obligtaions, has embraced organic farming which requires more work initially but has long-term benefits.  Sadly, these families feel they do not have the luxury of time and chose to struggle on.  (In Thai with English subtitles.) 

“Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest, Part 4-5” The West Coast premiere of Shanghai conceptual artist Yang Fudong’s (born 1971, Beijing) five-part black and white cinematic extravaganza that explores the uncertainty facing China’s new generation of urban youth as they confront the disparities between their real and imagined lives set against the backdrop China’s new and rapid modernity.  The highly-acclaimed series made a splash at the Venice Biennial and recalls the black-and-white prewar films of the 1930s and 1940s China and postwar avant-garde film noir.  The title references the legendary Seven Sages, a group of 3rd century Chinese intellectuals who separated themselves from civil society to lead Daoist-inspired lives (fueled with heavy alcohol consumption) in the countryside.  Parts 4 and 5 complement the Shanghai exhibition at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.  Part 4 covers incarnations of the seven intellectuals as fishermen and travelers in a new frontier isolated and alienated.  In Part 5, the seven intellectuals return to Shanghai, where they take up meaningless jobs. They are shown drinking and cavorting (full frontal nidity) in a banquet hall, and as the scenes take on an increasingly surrealistic tone, the nonsensical seems an analogy of contemporary urban life. 

The festival closes with a gala premiere of Bay Area-native Arvin Chen’s campy romance “Au Revoir Taipei,” set in Taipei’s markets, back alleys and karaoke bars.

March 10, 2010 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment