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Monday, June 11, 2012

The 2012 Korean American New York Film Festival

The Korean-American Film Festival New York had its fifth annual showcase of the best in Korean-American films at Anthology Film Archives from June 6-10, 2012. The film festival  celebrates the diversity of life amongst Korean people, whether it is young American kids, older generations, culture clashes, or simply films made by Korean-Americans starring non-Korean actors. I had fun attending the film last year, and wrote about it extensively, especially about a documentary centering on a brother-sister murderous pair, the ramifications of the 1992 L.A. riots on the Korean community, and the intensely personal stories of Korean comfort women during WWII. While I didn’t have the opportunity to attend many screenings, I am reporting on my favorite short films, and the documentary Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe, which I will report on next.

The Shorts Selection had many gems within its package. As I also work for Dance Films Association, as an archivist who assists in development and other administrative duties, and always am on the lookout for quality dance films, I chose to highlight Pyeunghun Baik's film I Am a Tree, a stunningly beautiful portrait of a tree spirit dancing out of trees cut down to be manufactured into objects, the spirit flowing away into the wind  for a new tree to inhabit.

Fractured, by Terry Sasaki (password Sasaki for the Vimeo link) explores the warmth and symbiotic relationship of a doctor and patient, healing one another, only to subvert the expectations in a shockingly sad way. If anyone has seen Shutter Island, they can imagine what happens next. I was completely stunned by the twist ending.

Korean School Rejects, by Peter Yun, was a lot of fun to watch. Two teenage boys learn Korean to pick up local girls, and a lot of mistranslations and awkwardness ensues. It was much lighter after the first couple of films, and was an innocent coming-of-age teen film, like a slice of life rather than teaching a larger life lesson.

Like Sugar on the Tip of My Lips, by Minji Kang, was very heartfelt and touching, exploring the co-dependent relationship between two sisters. Susi is blind, and has always relied on her older sister Laura's guidance and faith in her. Now Susi has her first date, and Laura must prepare a beauty ritual for her while learning to let her go in the world, as a young and mature woman. It had this delicacy to it that held me in suspension, imagining what it must feel like to be blind and have complete faith in another person that they are telling the truth.

Mountain of June, by Do-yeon kim, was a sweet animated film whose style was reminiscent of the 1982 animated short The Snowman, with breezy colors and the nostalgic happiness of old memories. A little boy and his father go hiking in the mountains, and they share food, breathe in the fresh air, greet fellow hikers, and just enjoy the tranquility of nature.

Play Things, by Mike Cook, had a deeper message, about how weapons are popularized as toys and breed violence, but I mostly enjoyed the heavy metal song by John Zorn that was choreographed to the rapid etchings of the Lego shapeshifting forms, and its opening unintelligible blather sounded a lot like the Tasmanian Devil

The Kook, by Gregory Mitnick and Nat Livingston Johnson, was chilling. More so because from the first frame on, I immediately recognized it as a film about the Heaven's Gate cult, who committed a mass suicide in 1997 because of a belief that they would transcend their Earthly bodies and live in space. The Kook borrows from that, with the cult members wearing sweatsuits, bright white sneakers, and a belief in an alien leader named Do that they will be on their journey soon. I was tense, wondering what the filmmakers would do with this real-life story. They crafted it into a wonderful science-fiction short about a cult member who uncovers something fishy about Do, yet is still  brainwashed enough to think it couldn't possibly be anything other than what she trusts to be real. The film doesn't insult the intelligence of cult members, as the members are, while naive, truly innocent people who want to believe in a higher power. The film has won awards at many film festivals across the country, and recently ran at Slamdance. Though I felt nervous watching the film, it was absolutely excellent, one of the best of the evening.

The Problem of Gravity, by Trevor Zhou, was very sweet and playful. Plain and simple: a little boy is fascinated by flight, and he uses his creativity, research, and imagination to make himself fly for real.

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